WHITEHALL — The former Whitehall Junior-Senior High School principal who was fired last week for changing school documents was charged with misdemeanor official misconduct Monday night, following a State Police investigation.
Jeffrey Keller was charged after investigators determined he changed a variety of student records in the school district system, including Regents answers, grades, attendance records and course credits, authorities said early Tuesday.
School Superintendent Patrick Dee released a statement early Tuesday about the criminal charge. He said State Police were contacted after a regional BOCES investigation determined that district records had been altered.
“We swiftly acted upon the information and contacted authorities,” Dee said.
The State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigation looked into the matter, and Keller was released, pending prosecution in Town Court. State Police said Keller was cooperative and confessed to changing documents.
Authorities said he told investigators he improved some students’ grades and attendance and was trying to help “less fortunate” students graduate, but the official misconduct count alleges Keller would have also benefited by remaining employed and getting tenure down the road. The investigation began when some teachers noticed “inconsistencies” in Regents tests scores.
He could face additional felony counts of falsifying business records. His lawyer, Michael Martin, could not be reached for comment Tuesday morning.
Dee said the investigation found that Keller worked alone in changing records.
Dee said the district has been working to correct the altered records, which included re-scoring the Regents tests and putting in place new policies to prevent unauthorized alterations.
“The behavior of a single individual is in no way a reflection on the hard work and dedication of our highly committed staff who continue to strive to make improvements for our students each and every day,” Dee wrote.
Keller, a Cambridge resident who had been with the district since 2016, had been placed on administrative leave on Jan. 27 after Dee said he was aware of “serious concerns” regarding a “situation,” but the district did not elaborate.
The school board had been preparing to fire Keller almost immediately after Dee suspended him.
However, state education law requires a 30-day notice to a probationary administrator, supervisor or teacher that a board of education is going to take action to fire. Also under the law, employees collect their salary for 30 days after the board action.
The case marked the second time in the past five years that the district has been embroiled in a controversy at the junior-senior high school. The district’s English test scores for grades seven and eight were invalidated by the state in 2016, because school officials improperly photocopied the test booklets.
Don Lehman covers police and court matters, Warren County government and the outdoors. He can be reached at 518-742-3224 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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