New York City ‘Blue Ribbon’ Principal Accused of Fraud to Bolster Graduation Rate Removed from Post but Given $1.8 Million ‘Desk Job’

A Queens, New York City, high school principal who had been removed from his post after accusations he padded his school’s graduation rate, has received a “sweetheart” settlement deal that allows him to have a “desk job” with the city’s Department of Education and ultimately pocket more than $1.8 million, the New York Post reported Saturday.

Khurshid Abdul-Mutakabbir, former principal at Maspeth High School, which was conferred the federal “Blue Ribbon” award in 2018, demanded his teachers pass students and allow them to graduate regardless of their academic performance, the Post revealed in reports over the past several years.

A settlement of misconduct charges allows Abdul-Mutakabbir, who was removed from his post in July, to remain on the city’s Department of Education payroll for another seven years.

“Maspeth High School created fake classes, awarded bogus credits, and fixed grades to push students to graduate – ‘even if the diploma was not worth the paper on which it was printed,’ an explosive investigative report charges,” Post journalist Susan Edelman wrote in September 2021.

That report, sent in June 2021 by Anastasia Coleman, a New York City Special Commissioner of Investigation for school districts, to Meisha Porter, former chancellor of New York City Public Schools, said an investigation “substantiated” the claims that Abdul-Mutakabbir and other Maspeth High School officials “committed various acts of malfeasance,” among them that they “attempted to have students with attendance, behavioral, or other issues graduate early.”

Despite the recommendation of the city investigators that the Department of Education try to terminate Abdul-Mutakabbir, 47, the department instead quietly settled the charges in January by fining him $12,000 and prohibiting him from working as a principal again.

The Post reported on the “sweetheart deal” that allows the former principal to “sit in an office until he ‘irrevocably’ retires on Nov. 30, 2029”:

He will pocket his current $187,043 annual salary, and get all union-negotiated pay raises for principals. He will also enjoy paid vacations and holidays, plus full health and retirement benefits, which will cost at least $78,558 a year in addition. The total cost will come to more than $1.8 million.

The settlement deal comes after Maspeth’s 99 percent graduation rate – landing it a federal “Blue Ribbon Award” in 2018 – boosted the image of New York City’s Department of Education.

The city investigators’’ report detailed the “malfeasance” conducted at Maspeth High School:

For instance, Student C – a student with known academic and attendance issues, as admitted even by his mother – was offered extra credits and an opportunity to graduate following the completion of his junior year. Similarly, Students L and T said they were afforded the opportunity to graduate early, despite their known issues. CW5 and Students l and T provided credible statements that corroborated each other’s accounts that students were encouraged to graduate early, and that showed Principal Abdul-Mutakabbir simply wanted students to graduate, even if the diploma was not “worth” the paper on which it was printed.

“There appears to have been an overt, clear attempt to graduate students early at Maspeth,” the report asserted, “something that runs contra to [redacted] contention that early graduation is not always in a student’s best interest.”

According to the city investigators’ report, teachers claimed Abdul-Mutakabbir pressured them to pass students regardless of their performance at school.

“I don’t care if a kid shows up at 7:44 and you dismiss at 7:45 – it’s your job to give that kid credit,” the former principal was quoted as instructing a staff member.

Abdul-Mutakabbir allegedly told teachers the school would give a student showing little effort in succeeding at school a diploma so he could “have fun working at Taco Bell,” according to the report.

Other large city school systems have been accused of fraud in granting high school diplomas, as Max Eden, research fellow at American Enterprise Institute, and the Heritage Foundation’s Lindsey Burke wrote in February 2018.

The education researchers asserted it had turned out the “alleged progress” made in Washington, D.C.’s government schools due to “expert driven” education reforms, was “fraudulent” after all:

Education reformers used to celebrate D.C.’s dramatic decline in school suspensions. Then a Washington Post investigation revealed that it was fake; administrators had merely taken suspensions off the books. The same reformers used to celebrate D.C.’s sharp increase in high-school graduations. Then an NPR investigation revealed that it, too, was fake; almost half of students who missed more than half the year graduated.

“For people who talk ceaselessly about ‘accountability,’ experts have been curiously silent in the face of these revelations,” Eden and Burke wrote. “Worse yet, the top-down mandates they implemented in D.C., intended to hold principals and teachers ‘accountable’ for improving ‘outcomes,’ have long since caught on across the country.”

New York City Councilman Robert Holden (D-Queens), drew attention to the alleged events at Maspeth High School three years ago after meeting with a group of whistleblower teachers.

“Nothing is more absurd in city government than rewarding dishonesty and cheating,” Holden said, referring to Abdul-Mutakabbir’s deal as a waste of taxpayer funds, the Post reported.

The accusations against the disgraced former principal were numerous. Teachers claimed he pressured them to change failing grades, and some apparently provided students with correct answers during Regents exams.

Additionally, as the investigators’ report revealed, staff accused Abdul-Mutakabbir and his two assistant principals of establishing “a clique” of privileged staff members who were awarded overtime assignments, while those outside of the “clique” were threatened with bad evaluation reports if they did not abide by their demands.

In 2019, the Post reported about one teacher who quit work for the Department of Education “because to stay would require my being complicit” in corruption.

“I made the difficult decision to resign rather than endure another year of intimidation and harassment, or be forced to pass students who did not earn it,” the teacher asserted, stating athletic coaches intimidated classroom teachers into passing student members of sports teams.

According to the Post report:

At the end of a marking period, the baseball coach warned the teacher in “an aggressive tone” that failing the student would keep him off the team and “the student had the power to take down the whole school if he didn’t play baseball.”

The teacher gave the student notes, a workbook and readings to complete to get back on track. But the student returned the workbook filled only with “joke random sentences.”

“Still, the teacher was admonished by colleagues close to administrators for not fixing his grade,” the Post observed.

New York City Chancellor David Banks, who vowed to cut waste and bureaucratic expansion when he assumed his post as head of the school system January 1, reportedly did not comment specifically on Abdul-Mutakabbir’s case to the Post.

“When I see evidence of egregious actions amongst a small number of individuals in our schools, we will move aggressively and expeditiously to remove those people from our schools and payroll permanently,” he said. “We seek the best outcome for students and taxpayers.”

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Susan Berry, PhD, is national education editor at The Star News Network. Email tips to [email protected].
Photo “Khurshid Abdul-Mutakabbir” by MaspethHS UFT. Background Photo “Maspeth High School by Maspeth High School.

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