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Riverview Gardens principals say district is falsifying attendance records

Students listen to a book reading during a giveaway event at Koch Elementary School in Riverview Gardens School District on March 2, 2017.
File | Ryan Delaney | St. Louis Public Radio
Riverview Gardens students at Koch Elementary School listen to a book reading in March.

The Riverview Gardens School District is falsely boosting its attendance numbers under an orchestrated effort to regain full state accreditation, two district principals allege in federal lawsuits.

The principals, Danielle DeLoatch and Amanda Bell-Greenough, filed the suits on Tuesday against the north St. Louis County district, alleging that they faced disciplinary action and retaliation for objecting to changing attendance records.

Riverview Gardens, which is trying to return to good standing with the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, denies the allegations.

DeLoatch was named principal of Westview Middle School in July after two years as principal at Lewis and Clark Elementary. Bell-Greenough was hired as principal of Glasgow Elementary School in July 2016.

In DeLoatch’s lawsuit, she claims “the atmosphere in the District was so intense and focused on achieving” full accreditation that when she “openly voiced concerns about the pressure to forge attendance records, she angered and alienated” her supervisors.

Riverview Gardens lost state accreditation in 2007 due to low academic performance and financial strain. The district is governed by a state-appointed board.

State education officials score districts based on test scores, graduation rates and attendance figures.

In recent years, Riverview Gardens’ numbers improved enough for the state Board of Education to move it up to provisional accreditation in January. The board could consider reclassifying the district as fully accredited later this year if key numbers, including attendance, remain high.

The lawsuits claim the district assembled secretaries from each of its schools to “clean up” attendance records in order to bump the district’s overall number from 79.09 percent to 81.92 percent, a key benchmark in the eyes of state education officials.

The principals said they were sent an email in July that read, in part: “We need every point for full accreditation, so every students [sic] attendance matters!! I know the secretaries have gone in an [sic] checked attendance, but we need to do it one more time!”

According to the lawsuit, the district boosted attendance numbers by having secretaries change partial attendance days to full days, marking students as present when they were sent home, and erasing record of students arriving late to school.

DeLoatch said in the lawsuit that because she objected to the practice, she was isolated by co-workers and placed on paid administrative leave after being falsely accused of assaulting a student. Bell-Greenough said in her lawsuit that she was demoted to assistant principal and “subjected to a racially hostile environment” because she is white. (Bell-Greenough’s supervisor is black, as are 98 percent of Riverview Gardens’ students. The district’s superintendent, Scott Spurgeon, is white. According to the lawsuit, three of the district’s 13 principals were white in the 2016-2017 school year, including Bell-Greenough.)

A Riverview Gardens spokeswoman said the district is “saddened” the principals decided to settle their grievances through lawsuits.

“While the district, which is made up of dedicated faculty, staff and students, is working extremely hard to gain full accreditation for our community, it has not and would not achieve such a goal fraudulently,” district spokeswoman Melanie Powell-Robinson said in a statement.

Powell-Robinson said the district could not comment further, citing the legal actions.

Follow Camille and Ryan on Twitter: @cmpcamille; @rpatrickdelaney

Ryan was an education reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.