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The Commercial Appeal (Memphis, Tennessee)


The Shelby County Schools board voted 7-1 Wednesday to uphold the termination of former football coach Teli White.

White was fired in December as part of a still unfolding grade-tampering scandal that started at Trezevant High, where White was coaching when the issues arose in 2016. He moved to Melrose High before his termination in December.

Board member Mike Kernell was the dissenting vote.

White's lawyer, Darrell O'Neal, said they will appeal to chancery court. He said school board members had already made up their minds in the case.

White had already lost one appeal in front of an impartial designee. The appeal to the school board involved the same testimony and evidence submitted in the hearing with the designee.

The board had the option to sustain the designee's ruling, send the case back to gather more evidence, revise the punishment or reverse the decision.

Kernell made a motion that would have reinstated White with "time served" from a suspension before he was terminated.

"I believe something should be done but I didn't see all the evidence of a nuclear option," Kernell said.

That motion failed before the board voted to sustain his termination.

At the center of White's case, presented entirely by his attorney, was whether the state championship-winning coach had violated any policies. Even if he had, O'Neal argued, White had been previously suspended. White shouldn't be able to be fired later for the same accusations, his lawyer said.

There was no direct evidence, he said, that White changed grades. Having transcripts on his computer was not a violation of district policy, O'Neal said.

O'Neal also seemed to argue that the entire grade-changing scandal was fake, claiming the students whose grades had allegedly been changed were already doing well enough to get into college. The list of students affected included a former valedictorian, he said.

"Why would he need his grade changed?" O'Neal asked.

About 50 people watched the hearing, many of whom appeared to be there to support White. Following the hearing, White pointed to a handful of his former players and noted their academic successes.

"They didn't need my help to get to college," he said.

The district's attorney on the case, Christopher Campbell, argued White was disciplined the two separate times based on additional evidence and the duty White had to continue to be honest with investigators. That didn't happen, Campbell said.

"He does not want to be candid with anyone trying to get to the bottom of this," Campbell said.

White was fired after an outside investigation revealed a secretary's login had been used to change more than 1,000 grades over a four-year period at Trezevant. White possessed some of the changed transcripts on his computer, according to the investigation.

White was charged with conduct unbecoming of a teacher and neglect of duty.

Even if White did not make the changes to grades directly, Campbell said, he knew grades were being changed and did not report it.

"The rule is, don't be unethical," Cambell said. "That's the rule. That's the rule he broke."

In one example in the report, a football player became eligible to play college sports after someone changed his grade in a reading class on his transcript from a 54 to a 90. A year later, on Nov. 29, 2013, that player's grade for a visual art class was changed from 67 to 77.

The same day, White received an email with the altered transcript of "Athlete No. 2," as the football player is referred to in the report.

White saved the email to his desktop, which also contained the original document, and marked a new one "updated."

"The sequence of these changes and the dates on which the transcripts were saved to Coach White's computer provide strong circumstantial evidence that Coach White and the person using (Secretary Shirley) Quinn's credentials were systematically working together to boost the GPA to a number that would enable Athlete No. 2 to qualify academically" to play football in college, according to the report.

The day the report was released in December 2017, the board voted to begin termination proceedings against White, a tenured teacher. In 2016, he was suspended for five days in the same case following an internal investigation, allegedly for lying to investigators at the time.

White is one of three people known to have been disciplined as part of the ongoing grading scandal.

Quinn, a clerical assistant, was fired from Trezevant in October 2016. She has since filed a lawsuit alleging discrimination because she was the only one terminated at the time.

Hamilton High principal Monekea Smith was demoted in January after a grade-changing issue, and an investigation is still underway in at least six other SCS schools that had high numbers of altered grades.

The state Comptroller of the Treasury's office is also conducting an investigation into Trezevant at the request of Shelby County District Attorney Amy Weirich.

That investigation will be used to determine whether criminal charges will be filed against anyone involved in the scandal.

Reach Jennifer Pignolet at jennifer. or on Twitter @JenPignolet.

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June 7, 2018


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