Lawrence superintendent denies involvement in alleged attendance scheme at KC school district

photo by: Dylan Lysen

Superintendent Anthony Lewis is pictured here at a Lawrence school board meeting on Monday, Jan. 27, 2020.

Lawrence Superintendent Anthony Lewis has been mentioned in a report outlining allegations that administrators in the Kansas City, Mo., school district — where Lewis was formerly an administrator — led a scheme to falsify attendance records.

Lewis, however, told the Journal-World this week that he had no role in the scheme, which is alleged to have occurred as part of a plan for the troubled Kansas City school district to regain its accreditation.

“Not at all. Absolutely not,” Lewis told the Journal-World when he was asked whether he was involved in any scheme to falsify attendance records.

LaQuyn Collier, a former secretary for the Kansas City school district, was fired for her role in the attendance fixing. She has since alleged that she was pressured by administrators to make improper changes and is seeking her job back. She told the Kansas City Star in an article published last week that she was instructed by the school district’s administrators to falsify the attendance records in the summer of 2014 to help the school district regain accreditation.

Lewis, who was the school district’s director of elementary education at the time, was mentioned in the Star’s report for an email he sent regarding the school district’s work to correct attendance records that summer, which was when an investigation found that the attendance tampering occurred. The article was unclear on what involvement Collier alleges Lewis had in the scheme.

Collier and another fired employee have hired Kansas City attorney Gerald Gray to try to get their jobs back. Gray did not return calls from the Journal-World requesting clarification if his clients allege Lewis was part of the scheme.

According to the report, Lewis sent an email on July 28, 2014, to the school district’s principals requesting that secretaries and attendance monitors begin “looking at all attendance data from previous school years one last time and correct any errors you find.”

In the same email, he also said, “Beginning May 28, 2014 the attendance monitors from each of the high schools gathered in the IT&C (the central office’s Information Technology & Communications) classroom to address attendance reconciliation efforts for the 2013-2014 academic year. During these days the monitors reviewed several attendance recording issues,” according to the report.

When asked about the email, Lewis told the Journal-World it was actually an email he had forwarded on from someone in the school district’s attendance office. Additionally, he said the email was referring to the school district’s effort to fix clerical errors in its attendance data.

“During that time of the year, the state normally allows cleanup for attendance, so we had ensured that all communication to principals come to the leadership department, which was the department I was in,” he said. “It’s really a normal cleanup.”

Lewis gave an example of a student being marked present in the first three periods, then absent in the fourth period, but then present again fifth, sixth and seventh periods.

“Obviously that would be an error,” he said, referring to the student being marked absent in fourth period. “So if they have the documentation, they could clean it up.”

However, the fired employees allege that the school district’s leaders had them conduct a different sort of cleanup.

Attendance is among the criteria Missouri uses in giving out performance scores that determine whether a district is unaccredited, partially accredited or fully accredited. Then-Superintendent Stephen Green, who had taken over the district a year earlier, said in an email to his cabinet at the time that revisions in attendance records should help the school district regain accreditation. He said: “Failure is not an option.”

Collier, who was among seven employees accused of falsifying the records, said she and other secretaries were given lists of students whose attendance was “at 85% or higher,” just shy of the 90% mark the state demands. She said they were told to raise the attendance to 90% by changing certain codes in the district’s database.

“This was not about fixing errors,” she said. “If that was the case, why did they only give us students who were almost to 90?”

She said she believed her “job depended on” her doing what she was told.

Green, who left the school district in 2015, has said the attendance tampering happened without his knowledge. Al Tunis, who became interim superintendent after Green left, also said he was unaware of the tampering.

But Gray told the Star his clients would receive no benefit for changing attendance numbers. He said he believed that the firings “had nothing to do with what they had done but because they were willing to provide information about their knowledge of the attendance debacle.”

— The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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