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Superintendent of Richmond Public Schools Jason Kamras during a Richmond School Board meeting Mon. March 5, 2018.

More than 1,000 Richmond Public Schools students received credit for high school courses when they shouldn’t have, a state investigation has found.

The city school system presented the Richmond School Board on Tuesday night with the preliminary findings of a state audit into how the district had awarded credit for high school classes, something the Virginia Department of Education found was not being done correctly. The lack of compliance with state standards affected more than 1,500 credit hours.

“This is just outrageous,” said Linda Owen, the School Board’s 9th District representative.

Of the more than 1,000 students who earned credit when they shouldn’t have, 300 are now seniors. The number of seniors this year isn’t yet available — districts file enrollment data at the end of September — but RPS typically has about 1,200 students in the senior class, meaning this issue would affect 1 in 4 seniors.

“It paints a very disturbing picture of what has been occurring at our high schools as it pertains to the oversight of credit offerings,” Superintendent Jason Kamras said of the audit. “We need to be a school district that does things right, and unfortunately, that is not the case all too often here at RPS.”

The audit, which focused on the school division’s five comprehensive high schools, showed six “major” errors for the past three school years. The Virginia Department of Education raised the issue with RPS officials each of the past three years, Kamras said Tuesday.

Former Superintendent Dana Bedden did not return an email requesting comment Wednesday. Neither did former interim Superintendent Tommy Kranz, who took over for seven months after Bedden left the district at the end of June 2017.

Tuesday’s presentation was just a sampling of the full state report, which is expected to be released by month’s end. VDOE spokesman Charles Pyle declined to say what led to the audit, saying it would be addressed in the full report.

Richmond is the only school district in the state being audited for its administration of high school credit, Pyle said.

The most public issue related to the school system’s lack of compliance has been its high school bell schedule, which the district changed — and the School Board retroactively approved Tuesday night — to have students meet the 140-hour requirement for a course credit.

“We just have to draw a line in the sand and stop doing these things,” Kamras said. “We have to do right by our kids.”

In order to meet the 140 hours required, individual classes should be scheduled for 94 minutes each. The state investigation found that at Richmond high schools, classes under the old bell schedule were too short.

The city’s School Board, upset over the state’s findings and urged to do so by the administration, approved starting class at most high schools 10 minutes earlier to be in compliance with the state standards.

“This could not happen for another year,” said Richmond Chief of Schools Harry Hughes. “We can’t afford to keep pulling instruction away from our students.”

The problems extended beyond school start times. Details of the errors are expected in the full report.

Some students were awarded two credits when they should have received one. The majority of those courses came in career and technical education classes.

Other students received credit for taking the same class multiple times and for taking classes not among the state-approved courses.

Beyond those two issues, some middle school students took high school-level classes and received credit when those classes weren’t eligible for credit by the state.

The state also found problems with the handbook that describes RPS classes, saying it included some credit errors. The handbook was also at issue earlier this year when a parent revealed that the school district had been inadvertently lowering some advanced students’ grade point averages by not weighting dual-enrollment and International Baccalaureate classes correctly.

Around the same time, the School Board suspended its attendance policy because it wasn’t being properly enforced, meaning 1 in 3 seniors last year missed too many classes but could still graduate.

“These audit findings are arguably as disgusting as the GPA or attendance shortcomings,” said Jonathan Young, who represents the city’s 4th District on the School Board.

To counteract the findings, RPS plans to file waivers with the state so credit won’t be rescinded, something VDOE told school leaders would happen if waivers weren’t submitted and the problems’ causes weren’t addressed.

“It’s our job to fix it once and fix it correctly,” said Chief Academic Officer Tracy Epp. “In ’18-’19, these issues will not be present.”

jmattingly@timesdispatch.com

(804) 649-6012

Twitter: @jmattingly306

Education Reporter

Justin Mattingly covers K-12 schools and higher education. A native of northern New York and a Syracuse University alumnus, he's worked at The Times-Dispatch since 2017. You can follow him on Twitter at @jmattingly306.

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