Legal Mailbag – 2/3/17

By Attorney Thomas B. Mooney, Neag School of Education, University of Connecticut

The “Legal Mailbag Question of the Week” is a regular feature of the CAS Weekly NewsBlast. We invite readers to submit short, law-related questions of practical concern to school administrators. Each week, we will select a question and publish an
answer. While these answers cannot be considered formal legal advice, they may be of help to you and your colleagues. We may edit your questions, and we will not identify the authors.

Please submit your questions to: legalmailbagatcasciacdotorg.


Dear Legal Mailbag:

As the principal of a middle school, I am spared most of the angst parents have over the grades of their children because, at least so far, the college admissions process does not require submission of middle school grades. I was therefore surprised when a parent came to see me recently, all upset about the C that her accomplished little daughter had received from her physical science teacher.

I settled in, prepared to listen politely to her sad story before I would tell her that there is nothing I can do about a teacher’s grading decision. But as she described what the teacher had supposedly told the class, I became concerned that she may have a case. I told her that I would look into her concern, but I did caution her that I was not sure that there was much that I could do.

My next stop was to pay a little visit to the teacher, and without ceremony I asked to see his grade book. His anxious face told the story as he slowly brought out his grade book. I was nonetheless shocked to see that his grade book had only quarter grades entered. When I demanded an explanation, the teacher broke down and admitted that he has been making up the grades to avoid the time and trouble of actually grading quizzes, projects and tests and then calculating grades.

I will be recommending that the teacher be fired. But I am at a loss to know what to do with these bogus grades. Help!

Making (Up) the Grade?


Dear Making the Grade:

Wow. What a mess that teacher left you in. I am quite sure that the parents of the girl who received a C would be pleased if you gave her a higher grade. However, given the teacher’s misconduct, none of the grades that this teacher gave in this way can stand. Grades are assigned to reflect the teacher’s assessment of a student’s performance. The grades here, however, assessed nothing, and they must all be vacated.

The grading process is part of a teacher’s professional responsibilities, and a teacher may be held accountable (i.e. may be subject to discipline) for inappropriate or unfair grading practices. The challenge, however, arises when, upon investigating a student (or parent) complaint about a grade, an administrator determines that a grade was determined unfairly. The administrator should first determine whether there is a board policy on the subject. If there is not (and it is unlikely that there would be), the matter is for the sound business judgment of the school administrator. In the first instance, the administrator should meet with the teacher to seek a remedy to the inappropriate grading practice. If such a remedy is not reasonably possible, however, the administrator should take care not to make a bad situation worse by making up grades him- or herself. To be sure, if the student took the course, in fairness, the administrator can and should provide credit to the student for the course. However, if the administrator does not have any basis for grading the student, the administrator should not change the grade, i.e. assign a new higher grade to pacify the parents. Rather, unless an unfair grade can be changed on the basis of reliable information, it is advisable simply to change the unfairly-derived grade to “Pass,” so that it neither helps nor harms the student.