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6 of 13 Clayton High students credited with graduation

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CLAYTON — Interim Superintendent Jim Causby said Tuesday that six of 13 Clayton High seniors who school leaders said should not have graduated have now met state graduation requirements. 

Circumstances surrounding the remaining seven graduates whose diplomas have been flagged are still under investigation. 

This announcement came during a Clayton High parents' meeting called to discuss issues that have plagued the school since June.

On Sept. 13, Causby authorized a news release from the district that stated 13 Clayton High gradsl did not earn the minimum state graduation requirements.

Causby said Sept. 13 was the deadline for submitting graduation reports to the state and that's why he decided to release the information.

"I did not want anyone to say I was withholding information, that's why the press release was done," said Causby. "We sent it out to everybody at the same time. Right or wrong, that was my decision and I thought it was the best thing to do."

Since then, Causby said he's had his people working to qualify every student they could.

"My first goal is to get them graduated," said Causby. 

Causby said four seniors were immediately cleared. Another four students received vocational training and of those, two were cleared. That leaves seven students who Causby hopes will soon be cleared for graduation.

"If I went to any other school in North Carolina, I would find similar problems. That's human, people make mistakes," said Causby. "Clayton is the only school where an investigation showed a concern. That happened is because the principal (Bennett Jones) filed a grievance and so it had to be investigated."

Causby said two other issues concerned him: the football program and school finances.

He said he found no evidence someone attempted to fix a football player's grade to make him eligible for the team. Causby mentioned the North Carolina High School Athletic Association took action against the school for having an improper football practice in the spring.

"The association investigated, fined the school $400 and put the football program on probation for a year," said Causby. "That means they can't go to the playoffs. They can win all their regular games but they can't go to the playoffs. I just discovered that letter from the NCHSAA last week."

Causby declined to comment on the specifics of his Clayton financial concerns.

He did say that, had he been superintendent, he would have handled some things differently from how former Superintendent Ross Renfrow conducted his investigation.

"I would never have assigned it to someone who worked for me because that automatically creates suspicion. It looks funny," said Causby. "It should have been handled by an outside attorney firm or something. What the superintendent did, he assigned it to the personnel department and I think they made a good-faith effort, but I don't agree with some of the things they did."

Causby said this investigation has gotten out of hand and, without citing specifics, expressed concern about actions school board members have taken during the investigation.

"There's a clear role in state law between the Board of Education and the superintendent.,"  said Causby. "The board's role is governance, setting policy, adopting budgets, that's their role. But when they come across something, they're supposed to refer it to the proper authority. It's a step-by-step process and if you get out of that step-by-step, then you have issues."

Causby said he's had discussions wiht school board members, clarified their roles and they said they understand. 

"And I'm not criticizing them because in the absence of direction, people will try to help and I think that's what's happened," said Causby. "They are good people and they want the very best. I don't see any evidence that they tried to create anything that some of their involvement may have caused."

Causby said his first priority is deciding whether or not to reinstate former Clayton High School Principal Bennett Jones.

"I met with Bennett last week and asked for a timeline of three weeks," said Causby. "I'm not going to make a decision without having looked at every single word."

Causby said he met with Jones for 2 1/2 hours on Monday in what he described as an informal discussion and a courtesy visit.  

"Within the next two weeks, if he still wants to do the grievance, I will give him an official, formal hearing," said Causby. "That means he can bring in witnesses. It's a closed session. It's closed by law. I will hear it and then render a decision."

Causby said if Jones disagrees with his decision, he can appeal it to the Board of Education. If the board rules against him, Jones can appeal the ruling before the Johnston County Superior Court.

"If all that happens, it could take months," said Causby. "Those are the legalities of it. That's his choice. I'm moving it as fast as I can."