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Auditor says she was fired for uncovering ‘grade and attendance manipulation’ within Dallas ISD

The allegations surround W. W. Samuell High School, an attorney for the auditor said.

DALLAS, Texas — A former Dallas Independent School District auditor asked to be reinstated after alleging the district terminated her for uncovering 'grade changing and attendance manipulation' within its classrooms. 

The former auditor and manager of Investigative Services within the district's Office of Internal Audit, Andrea Whelan, appealed her termination during a grievance hearing before select board members Thursday afternoon. 

The board members listened to Whelan's attorney, Austin Campbell, who levied the allegations on Whelan's behalf. 

"Ms. Whelan was fired in retaliation for protected activity under the Texas Whistleblower Act," Campbell said. 

"In 2021, Ms. Whelan uncovered evidence of grade and attendance manipulation within the district, including at Samuell High School."

Credit: WFAA
Andrea Whelan asks to be reinstated and given her job back at a hearing Thursday.

Campbell continued saying the grade and attendance manipulation meant the district was getting more funding than it was legally allowed to receive from state and federal governments. 

"This included situations where the principal of Samuell High School was directing the changing of grades--including giving passing grades to students who performed no work," Campbell said. 

Campbell added that the Office of Internal Audit continuously re-wrote Whelan's drafts for an official report to 'eliminate details, reverse findings, and generally minimize any sort of discussion of illegal conduct regarding grade and attendance manipulation in her reports.'  

Whelan eventually filed a complaint with the Texas Education Agency about what was happening on March 7 of this year, Campbell added. 

He said it was clear the termination was retaliation after Whelan complained to the TEA. 

A spokesperson for the Texas Education Agency told WFAA the agency is reviewing Whelan's whistleblower complaint. 

Whelan was fired on March 30 by the district. 

Campbell also asked that Whelan receive backpay alongside her reinstatement.

The allegations are serious, coming from a high-level manager within the district whose duty is to be a watchdog for Dallas ISD. 

Credit: WFAA
Andrea Whelan (left) and her attorney Austin Campbell.

But the district got a chance to reply to Whelan's claims during the hearing, saying Whelan's termination was solely based on poor performance, not retaliation. 

Attorney Kathryn Long, outside counsel for the district, argued that Whelan's 'performance failures' hindered the district from 'timely, efficiently, objectively, and reliably determining whether there were any grade problems at Samuell High School that required correction.'

"It was her performance failures that led to that," Long said. 

Long added that the district also communicated with Whelan about her poor performance weeks before she filed her complaint with the TEA. 

"One week before she made any report--she received a written reprimand and was placed on an intervention plan. The reprimand notified Whelan that if her performance issues continued, it would result in further adverse employment action including termination," Long said. 

"She was terminated because she didn't efficiently complete her reports, her reports failed to adhere to an investigative and auditing standard, and she emailed confidential information to her personal email account, which is illegal." 

Credit: WFAA
Attorney Kathryn Long makes her statements on behalf of the district.

Campbell countered, however, that sending investigatory work to a personal email was necessary during the pandemic when the Office of Internal Audit was working remotely. 

Long told board members that the Office of Internal Audit budgeted 56 hours of labor for the investigation and that Whelan took seven months or 486.25 hours to do a forensic look at what was happening. 

Whelan responded as to why it took her so long to do the investigation when board members asked her about it. 

"It was difficult to get reports or material that would allow me to hone in on what I wanted to look at based on the allegation," Whelan said. 

"Records intensive investigations take time--especially for a single investigator." 

Long said what Whelan uncovered wasn't 'grade changes or attendance manipulation' either. 

"What the principal was trying to do was not deal with grade changes but with credit recovery," Long added. "Trying to get students to complete courses or graduation--particularly in pandemic conditions." 

Board members overseeing the hearing asked questions but not about what Whelan found--more or less how she did her job and communicated with the OIA. 

A vote was taken after about 45 minutes--and the board denied Whelan's grievance. 

It's unclear whether Whelan will take further legal action against the district. 

"She's been an employee for a long time, she's made a lot of contributions to the district, and I think this is the wrong decision," Campbell said after the hearing. 

"I was terminated because Mr. Rubel (DISD's chief auditor) didn't want to do his job and identify problems I had found in my investigations," Whelan said. 

It's unclear if what Whelan found was substantiated or corroborated by the district. 

Board Trustee Joyce Foreman said she had wished more board members had asked about Whelan's investigation. 

"I want to see her report," Foreman said. 

Audit Department Nightmares

Dallas ISD has had a tough go with its audit department for some time. 

If Whelan's name sounds familiar--it's because she spoke to WFAA in 2018 about irregularities she discovered within the district that she claimed were ignored. 

Whelan was a former investigator for the Dallas IRS office and conducted numerous tax crime investigations that resulted in hundreds of convictions over her 25-year tenure. 

She believed then that DISD retaliated against her and another former employee for reporting possible bid splitting on construction projects that led to taxpayers not getting the best bang for their buck. 

Whelan left the district after she said she was mandated remedial training. 

“I was pretty much back to trainee status,” Whelan told WFAA at the time. “I pretty much couldn't walk or chew gum at the same time at that point.”

After WFAA reported Whelan's findings--Dallas ISD offered Whelan's job back to her. 

In 2020, Chief Auditor Steven Martin made headlines after finding potential contractor overpayments and calling for two state agencies to review his findings for accuracy and possible criminal violations. 

He resigned after his credibility was questioned. At the time--the potential overpayments totaled $1.7M. 

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