During a press conference Wednesday, inside the building that houses the state Department of Education, a group of public officials claimed reports about a cheating scandal in Baton Rouge schools is a smokescreen in the attempt to create the City of St. George.
One member of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education said the top education official, Superintendent John White knew those allegations were false, but never spoke up.
Before the group could make their statements, White showed up ready to speak with the media.
"There's never been any lack of clarity about what it is we're doing with this parish," White said.
White told reporters his department is reviewing graduation records from East Baton Rouge Parish schools. It all stems from EBR Superintendent Bernard Taylor reporting a student who graduated and was one credit short.
State Representative and former school board member Pat Smith says that issue happened within the past two years.
"Why wasn't the audit begun then?" she questioned at Wednesday's press conference.
The group of school board members, legislators, community leaders and BESE representatives believes White misled the public, by not speaking out last week.
"Superintendent White has known these allegations were false, but he sat idly by while the academic integrity of our school system was called into question," said Belinda Davis, President of One Community, One School District.
BESE member Carolyn Hill says she emailed White after seeing reports about an alleged cheating scandal. In part of her email, she writes, "I insist on being provided with a copy of the complaint." White responded back, "There is no record regarding the complaint. We received it orally, through conversation."
EBR school board member Tarvald Smith takes issue with that. He says when a school under the states supervision was raided by the FBI, Superintendent White was silent. Yet when once complaint came in regarding a school in the EBR system, White pounced.
"So an anonymous call is more important than a raid by the FBI?" Smith asked. "You figure it out."
Some in the group claim what has happened is a deliberate plot, to question the academic credibility of the school system and overlook progress the district has made in order to get more support to create the City of St. George.
"Someone has put false information out about the system and I believe it comes from the pull out of St. George," said Rep. Pat Smith.
However, the spokesman for the City of St. George says they were not involved.
"That's not what we do," said Lionel Rainey III. "We're gathering signatures and we're trying to put a petition on a ballot. To say that we have the sway or ability to launch an investigation by the Department of Education, that's hard to even comprehend."
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