UPDATED: Westbury Principal Was Acting on Orders From Above in HISD, Attorney Says

Update: 6 p.m. May 14: In a unanimous vote, Houston ISD trustees just voted to fire Westbury High Principal Jason Catchings.

The attorney for Jason Catchings, the Westbury High School principal put on leave for allegedly ordering that some students' grades be raised to passing, says today he has documentation showing that Catchings was just following a superior's orders.

Austin-based attorney Tiger Hanner, who has represented educators for the past 25 years in legal proceedings, says Justin Fuentes, HISD's chief high schools officer, told Catchings what to do about the extremely low grades in a memo in December and repeated his directions in an email in April.

According to Hanner, Catchings was never telling the substitute teacher in one class to change the grades, but was using a grade of “80” as “a placeholder” until the grades she was handing out – “a 3, an 8, an 11” Hanner recalled – could be verified by a check with the teacher's gradebook.

The policy for checking grades, Hanner says, is something all teachers in public schools in Texas have to do by verifying the grades with the campus PEIMS (Public Education Information Management Systems) clerk.

That check had not been made by the time Catchings was placed on administrative leave, Hanner says.

At tonight's meeting of the Houston school board, at which trustees are expected to vote on whether to fire Catchings, neither the principal nor his attorney will be in attendance, Hanner says. “We're not allowed to speak so coming out serves no purpose,” he explained.

Hanner declined to share the documentation he has, saying he would prefer to settle this with the district without trying the case in the media. “We're just hoping the board will take a step back,” he says. 

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