Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Camden school clerk alleges attendance inflation

An attendance clerk at Woodrow Wilson High School filed a lawsuit Wednesday in Superior Court in Camden County alleging attendance inflation by her superiors and the Camden School District.

An attendance clerk at Woodrow Wilson High School filed a lawsuit Wednesday in Superior Court in Camden County alleging attendance inflation by her superiors and the Camden School District.

Roxanne Garrett also accuses former Wilson principal Tyrone Richards of sexual harassment and creating a hostile work environment.

Richards did not return calls for comment Wednesday.

In a six-page complaint, Garrett describes a district with an "everyone should fear for their job" mentality. Garrett, who has been in the district for 23 years, claims to have been subjected to sex as a condition of employment while working with Richards from 2008 to 2012 and also being pressured to change attendance records.

Garrett's attorney, Matthew Wolf, said Garrett, whose job was to document daily attendance, never changed any records but believes that the data were regularly changed.

"She believes her supervisors did and continue to fudge attendance records," Wolf said Wednesday.

Garrett, 46, observed her supervisors inputting students in the system as present when she knew they weren't, he said.

"Roxanne scours the school to find students so she can check them off," Wolf said. "She then inputs the data into their proprietary software, which manages the attendance."

Garrett remains employed as an attendance clerk at Wilson. Her attorney declined to make her available for an interview.

Camden schools interim Superintendent Reuben Mills said Wednesday that "this is the first I'm hearing of this," and asked to be interviewed again after he spoke to the staff at Wilson.

"This is serious," he said.

During the 2008-09 school year, an average of 78 percent of students would show up at Wilson each day, according to state records.

Since then, attendance has increased each year, to 89 percent last school year.

Attendance rates at Camden High School have also improved during the last four years, from 67 percent in 2008-09 to 83 percent last school year.

The state's target for schools statewide is a 90 percent daily attendance rate, said state Department of Education spokesman Rich Vespucci. "It's part of our monitoring of schools," Vespucci said. "Schools that don't meet the target get a lower . . . score" on state performance evaluations.

The Camden district's poor review on the Quality Single Accountability Continuum (QSAC) in 2011 led, in part, to the state takeover of the district, which is expected to go into effect this summer.

The state gave the district failing grades in four of five QSAC categories: instruction and program (9 percent), operations (47 percent), personnel (19 percent), and governance (33 percent).

Camden Board of Education president Kathryn Blackshear said she was shocked to hear of Garrett's allegations. "I thought we were so done with that," Blackshear said, referencing allegations of manipulated school data in 2005.

Blackshear said that after-school programs, professional development, and having a state monitor have helped increase attendance.

Sean Brown, whose three-year board term ended last week, said he recalled nothing specific the district had done to increase attendance: "There are initiatives here and there but nothing comprehensive . . . to increase attendance or decrease truancy."

In the complaint, Garrett alleges that starting in 2009, Richards would "berate and denigrate" her while also flirting with her and asking her to wear skirts but not stockings to work.

In October 2009, Richards "initiated sexual contact" with her while the two were working in his office, according to the complaint. Garrett submitted to intercourse "out of fear of losing her job."

"Principal Richards called [Garrett] to his office several times, at which time it was understood that [Garrett] was to submit to his sexual advances as a condition of employment," the complaint states.

Richards became principal at Wilson in the 2008-09 school year but was removed before the start of the current school year in a state-mandated shuffle of principals at persistently low-performing schools.

He has spent the last year working as principal on special assignment for Camelot, a private alternative-education provider with about 400 students in three school programs.

Once Richards left Wilson, he stopped seeking Garrett for sex. However, the pressure to change attendance continued with the new principal, Garrett says in her complaint.

This isn't the first time Garrett has complained about a supervisor.

When Garrett was a secretary for a guidance counselor at Brimm Medical Arts High School in 2005, she complained about inappropriate comments and advances, recalled Joseph Carruth, who was principal at Brimm at the time.

During a meeting among Garrett, the counselor, and Carruth to discuss the matter, the counselor had a stroke. He did not return to the district after that meeting, Carruth said.

"She seemed credible," Carruth recalled.

That incident occurred a few months before Garrett was implicated in the cheating scandal that rocked Brimm and led to the ousting of Carruth, who returned to the district in July 2012 as a result of an arbitration ruling. He is scheduled to be laid off June 30.

"She had been falsely accused of being involved in the scandal and had to retain an attorney to prove she was not involved," Wolf said. "After falsely implicating her, the [school] board did nothing to clear her name. . . . She was subject to rumor and guilt by association and suffered many sleepless nights."