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Education

Manatee County NAACP calls for superintendent's resignation after graduation rate scandal

Manatee County Schools Superintendent Cynthia Saunders
Cynthia Saunders chose not to contest the allegations

Superintendent Cynthia Saunders reached a settlement earlier this month with the state.

Earlier this month Manatee County’s Superintendent Cynthia Saunders reached a settlement with the state for her role in potentially inflating the county's graduation rate more than six years ago.

But the matter isn’t closed in the minds of some local leaders.

Last week, the Manatee County NAACP issued a statement calling for her resignation and condemning her actions.

The state accused Saunders of setting up a practice in which high school dropouts were reclassified in the system as transferring to home school. This method was used from about 2014 to 2016, according to the settlement.

The current superintendent learned of the practice during a training as a Marion County principal, the settlement states.

As part of the settlement, Saunders was fined $2,000 by the Education Practices Commission, ordered to take courses on ethics and at-risk students, and had a letter of reprimand placed in her file.

Saunders chose not to contest the allegations, WUSF previously reported. But the superintendent said in a prepared statement that accepting the agreement is bittersweet.

“One of the lessons I have learned through this experience is that I could have done a better job of implementing changes upon entering a new school district, different from the one I previously served,” she said.

Luther Wilkins is president of the Manatee County NAACP. He said her decision to reclassify most high school dropouts as homeschoolers may have been to make the county look good or to bring in money.

"Either one of those are unacceptable to us to take anything other than no child left behind. Don't send a kid home and then just forget about them. And that's what it seems like."

Wilkins said the organization wants more information about the students affected by Saunders’ actions, which happened when she was the county director of secondary schools.

He said the fine is a minimum consequence and the civil rights organization wants the maximum.

"The NAACP wants the best for the children. And if losing Cynthia Saunders as superintendent of schools, having someone else come in works, then that works."

Wilkins said that if she stays, the league wants accountability and proof that students are receiving the best care, especially those dealing with abuse or poverty.

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