When Laurenz Santiago showed up in his cap and gown at Westchester Square Academy, he and his family got a humiliating reception.
“Your son may not be attending the graduation,” his stunned dad, Edward Santiago, said a school staffer told him.
The parents were ushered into Principal Yira Salcedo’s office. She explained that Laurenz was among five seniors who could not graduate because a math teacher had failed to sign off on the online courses they had taken. “The principal was in tears,” the dad said.
After inquiries by The Post, the city Department of Education said it’s investigating whether the Bronx high school violated city rules requiring students who take online courses to have “regular and substantive interaction” with qualified teachers.In fact, two teachers who were asked to give grades for the online work refused to do so because they didn’t know the students – and believed it was wrong to award the credits, insiders said.
The department also said it’s barred 16 additional Westchester Square students who took online math courses from receiving credits, and is looking into others.
Daniel Gardner, who took U.S. history and geometry online, said the courses are quick – and easy for students to fake.
“You can cheat off someone. If you wanted to bring all your friends in to cheat, so be it,” he told The Post.
Eleventh grader Shoki Ali, a native Arabic speaker, said he struggled with “no teacher at all” to complete two online English courses.
“It was very hard for me,” he said. “A teacher can explain it, and make me understand it faster, better, easier.”
Westchester Square administrators enrolled students in the online courses if they had failed a class or just needed credits in various subjects, staffers said. The “iLearn” courses could be done on a laptop anytime during the school day or at home. The program consists of videos of lessons along with quizzes, and students said they could retake tests several times.
After the students finished, Salcedo and other administrators asked teachers to check printouts of work and enter final grades, insiders said. At least two math teachers protested they had never even met the kids.
“You don’t have to know them,” Salcedo replied, according to the insiders.
In addition, teachers said they found some online classes used the wrong curriculum. One student was given fourth-grade math, a staffer said.
About 13,000 city high-school kids took online courses for core subjects in 2016-17, according to the DOE. The department’s website says 250 schools offer iLearn classes, and that students get “teacher guidance at each step.”
Salcedo did not respond to questions. DOE spokesman Doug Cohen said, “These allegations were referred for investigation and we took immediate steps to ensure improper grades were not entered.”
Laurenz’s furious dad is considering legal action. The teen is poised to get his diploma after finishing summer school, but has missed the pomp and circumstance.
“We will never see our son graduate,” he said.