CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — An investigation by the Texas Education Agency into the Tuloso-Midway Independent School District has concluded.
The TEA began looking into the district in 2021 following allegations of grade tampering, tampering that some alleged changed the overall GPA of some students.
Wednesday, TMISD announced that the investigation is complete and it has come to an agreement with the TEA.
That agreement sets forth terms that the district must implement by August.
In July 2021, KRIS 6 News reported Rick Fernandez — the superintendent of the district at the time — was placed on administrative leave, with pay.
A few days later, KRIS 6 News learned the TMISD was being investigated by the TEA for alleged grade tampering.
KRIS 6 News also reported the TMISD Board of Trustees conducted its own investigation.
Fernandez later settled his resignation with the district in October 2021, but there was no confirmation at the time if it was due to the investigation.
On Wednesday, the district said in a release it cooperated fully with the TEA and is "committed to resolving all complaints brought forth," which ended the investigation.
TEA officials said in an e-mailed statement Wednesday that as a result of the investigation, the district was assigned a "Corrective Action Plan (CAP) to address substantiated findings."
"The case remains open until TEA is satisfied that the corrective actions (...) have been successfully addressed, at which time the district will be issued a closure letter," officials said.
TMISD officials said in the release they are dedicated to addressing concerns from the TEA and implementing the action plan, "to continue providing the best education for all students."
The district laid out the plan it will implement as part of the agreed action plan:
- Members of the Board of Trustees and the Superintendent completing the Lone Star Governance by August 15, 2023.
- TMISD not offering an off-campus Physical Education (“P.E.”) course to District students for the 2023-2024 school year.
- TMISD conducting a public hearing by August 15, 2023, admitting the following: 1) TMISD did not previously obtain approval from TEA for the off-campus P.E. course, in accordance with Board Policy and state law, and 2) TMISD did not previously offer the off-campus P.E. course to all students.
"(The) District will continue to work closely with TEA to ensure that all concerns are addressed," the release states. "The investigation has been a challenging time for the District, but it appreciates TEA's support throughout the investigation and resolution process."
Current TMISD superintendent Steve VanMatre was not with the district when the investigation began, but has elaborated on the agreement. He said the Lone Star Governance is a two day intensive training put on by the TEA.
“You really look at the way you’re operating as a board of trustees, a team of eight with the superintendent, are your agendas student centered? Because student outcomes don’t change unless adult’s behaviors change,” he said.
VanMatre added it was TMISD's decision to stop offering off-campus P.E. courses because it's not needed.
Timeline through investigation
In November 2021, KRIS 6 News received documents previously requested from the district. The Attorney General ordered the release of those documents after the district sought to withhold them.
According to the documents, on Dec. 14, 2020, Fernandez became aware of alleged grade tampering at the high school. In an email, Fernandez said he found over 300 students had a grade change with "little to no rationale or documentation." The allegations involved a school employee deliberately manipulating grades to the benefit of her children as well as those of her family friends.
KRIS 6 News confirmed that the employee was the wife of former TMISD, Place 2 Trustee Stephen Hoelscher.
On June 14, 2021, Fernandez told the school board president "It's in the district's best interest" to conduct an audit into grading practices, with a suggestion it be done by legal professionals, and not anyone within the district.
The same day, an agenda item called for the possible resignation of Hoelshcer, but no action was taken.
A four-page report from the TEA was sent to Fernandez and board president Paul Mostella on July 12, 2021.
That report revealed four students, including the child or children of a Tuloso-Midway ISD board trustee, had an unfair advantage involving a "non-district PE course" that was not offered to the remainder of the student body in the school district.
A week later, the board held a special meeting to discuss Fernandez's employment with the district.
By July 15, 2021, Fernandez was put on leave with pay.
The next week on July 21, the school board held their meeting to launch their own investigation, and also voted to possibly reinstate Fernandez, which failed.
On Oct. 19 that year, the trustees agreed to a mutual settlement with Fernandez, which paid out $160,000 to buy out the remainder of his contract.
His final day of employment was Jan. 31, 2022.
VanMatre said no individuals were punished as a result of the investigation. He said Mrs. Hoelscher had voluntarily retired at some point during the investigation. Stephen Hoelscher is no longer a board member.
To VanMatre's knowledge, none of the families with students affected by grade changes have been contacted. He also could not say if any of the findings found or did not find any involvement by Fernandez.
“What’s going on behind the scenes is TEA and the legal counsel representing TM are putting together some talking points where we can offer much more transparency at the public hearing as we move forward. And, I think a lot of questions will be answered at that time," he said.
VanMatre told KRIS 6 News the findings of the investigation will not be released, but questions regarding allegations will be answered at the public hearing. He anticipates that meeting to be scheduled well before the Aug. 15 deadline.
This is a developing story, check back with KRIS 6 News for updates. For the latest local news updatesclick here, or download the KRIS 6 News App.