Alleged grade changing scheme in local school district

Alleged grade scheme

Every parent dreams of seeing their child graduate at the top of their class.

Even more so, getting that number one spot is deemed to be the highest academic achievement possible which may mean endless opportunities like scholarships to top universities.

Such is the case with Laura Villanueva and her son Juan Antonio. She told Action 4 News that he strives to be the best and hopes his grades can score him a scholarship to Baylor University and dreams of

someday becoming a doctor.

He just finished his sophomore year at Simon Rivera High School in Brownsville ranked number two in his class.

But something interesting happened to Juan Antonio this year. He and another student ended the school year with the exact same grade point average.

And though Laura said he was excited about his accomplishment, a dark cloud of suspicion quickly took over as rumors of a possible grade changing scheme came to light.

Laura Speaks: "As I understand, he said that the number two little girl that had tied with him or he tied with her that would be the principal TMs niece. And that the grades were forged and that the signature was forged and I mean I was upset! Very upset!"

According to Laura, her son heard the principal TMs niece's grades were changed to make her the top student. And that the alleged grade change happened in Blanca Arizmendi's class.

Not long after that, other parents were calling her disturbed about the same thing.

This unnamed parent said they felt disappointed with the news and couldn't believe this could be happening at that level.

The parent told Action 4 News they did not want to be identified because of fear of retaliation against their child, a sentiment shared by a lot of the parents we spoke to.

Laura Speaks: "Ugh I am just so disgusted... it makes me sick to my stomach.... how can you do this and get away with it?"

Suspicions grew high after parents who had children in Blanca Arizmendi's class, the teacher where the alleged grade tampering had taken place, claimed her writing didn't match graded papers they'd received from her in the past.

According to the parents Action 4 News spoke to on and off camera, they said they knew the rumors were true when they came across the actual grade change form showing the alleged change.

It shows this student's 3rd six weeks grade changed from an 81 to a 96 apparently done by Blanca Arizmendi, a French teacher at Rivera.

But how could this have happened?

We went looking for answers.

According to the Association of Brownsville Educators, Arizmendi couldn't speak to Action 4 News on the matter pending a grievance investigation she filed with the Brownsville Independent School District alleging the grade tampering and forgery.

Action 4 News requested a copy of this grievance from BISD and were denied pending approval from the Attorney General. A decision that could take several months to get back.

In the meantime, Action 4 News spoke to an anonymous source, employed at Rivera about the matter.

The source claims the correct grade this student received in that classroom was a 90 but was later changed to a 96.

We asked if it was 100 percent by their knowledge that that was in fact not Arizmendi's signature and that she in fact did not change the grade

Source Speaks: "Yes many, many were present when the teacher... when the teacher went up to the clerks office and said that that was not her handwriting and it was heard in the office."

So we then asked why the alleged form showed something different, a change of an 81 to a 96?

Action 4 News' source said it is proof whoever tampered with the grades was unfamiliar with the grade the student actually received.

Source Speaks: "By one of the clerks confessions he said it was the assistant principal in charge of grades most likely directed by the principal."

Rivera's principal is a man named Hector Hernandez, who has been with the district for almost 40 years. We also learned that perhaps there may have been other incidents in the past.

Source Speaks: "Other teachers are saying the principal has approached them and attempted to have grade changes."

According to the district's policy, a course grade issued by a teacher is final and may not be changed by anyone unless a grade is arbitrary, erroneous or not consistent with the district.

So naturally, Action 4 News wanted to meet with principal Hector Hernandez.

Since we were getting nowhere with the district, Action 4 News tried numerous phone calls to him but they were never returned.

Action 4 News also tried visiting him on campus and were instead asked to contact the district. Action 4 News even went looking for him at his home, not once but several times and still no response.

Laura Speaks: "Being the principal you should know better. I mean if you go in, you take an oath and all the kids are your kids. To look out for your family, your own I don't think it's fair... It's not fair forging signatures and grades."

She said her son stresses so much about his grades and just because the student and principal are related that student is going to do better; she called the actions unfair.

Action 4 News wanted to verify the relationship between the principal and this student so we got in contact with her father.

By the father's own account he told us they are related because his wife's sister is married to Hernandez.

He claims his daughter was ranked number two this year because of a grading error and that her grade was never changed. But just a few minutes into the conversation, he changes his story saying it was in fact changed.

Action 4 News then asked him if it's true that his daughter's grade was changed without the teacher's knowledge and he responded by saying that they are all lies and claimed Arizmendi was the one who changed the grades and that there is no way the principal would risk changing it.

So who signed for the grade change?

Action 4 News contacted the district asking for the greivance once again and once again the request was denied this time citing FERPA, the Family Education Rights Privacy Act, which protects student's information.

Even after Action 4 News insisted and clarified that we did not seek the student's information but instead Arizmendi's grievance we were turned down.

Action 4 News also requested inconsequential documents containing her signature but of course those were denied as well.

Interestingly enough we learned that Arizmendi used to work at the Los Fresnos Consolidated Independent School District a few years back. Action 4 News filled out an open records request with them and within

24 hours we had her job application, signature and all.

Action 4 News of course wanted to compare the signatures to confirm the alleged forgery. At the time Blanca Arizmendi worked in Los Fresnos she went by her maiden name, Meza. But viewers can check out the handwriting and be the judge on whether or not they match.

Juan Antonio's father Marco Antonio Villanueva Sr. also spoke to Action 4 News regarding this whole matter.

He said they are prepared to sue adding that, "this draws a dark cloud over Rivera High School and BISD for that matter."

In a conversation Action 4 News had about a month ago with BISD Superintendent Dr. Carl Montoya, he spoke about how important it was for him to show transparency.

Superintendent Dr. Montoya: "One of my goals as an administrator is to be visible throughout the community. I'm very visible and that's a good thing. That communication needs to be open rather than come to the office schedule a meeting...the door is open."

It is a door Laura hopes will assure her someone will be held responsible.

Laura Speaks: "I want justice, I want whoever is guilty to pay for it and I want apologies not to us but to our son."

At this point Action 4 News has not received the grievance from BISD.

Action 4 News also requested to speak to Dr. Carl Montoya on the same issue, but were denied pending the investigation.