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By Mehrose Ahmad and Sumaita Hasan, Managing Editor and Editor-in-Chief
According to its organizers, the spring junior college trip sponsored by the Parent Teacher Association (PTA) will be delayed until further notice following an investigation launched on the PTA’s SAT program, which will no longer be running this term.
The PTA has expressed concerns about funding the college trip after the investigation on the SAT program began, which the PTA has sponsored for the past two school years. PTA Co-President Susan Karlic asked for approval from Ms. Jahoda in order to move forward with the trip. On February 28, according to Ms. Karlic, Ms. Jahoda informed Ms. Karlic that she will look into the trip, but as of today, Ms. Karlic has not heard back from Ms. Jahoda. The school calendar still lists the trip as occurring on March 31.
The SAT program, last held during the 2016 fall semester, was funded by the PTA and taught by four faculty members. After students paid the association, the PTA paid the teachers who taught the program during after school hours.
Though The Classic cannot confirm who launched the investigation or what its exact focus is, we can report that a teacher reached out to Ms. Jahoda in late November via email with concerns about how the program was funded and asked her to “investigate” the program. Ms. Jahoda never responded to the teacher’s email or found him in person to discuss the issue.
Two months after the teacher sent the email, the Office of the Special Commissioner of Investigation (SCI) arrived at THHS with questions for those involved with the program.
The teacher who sent the email, speaking on conditions of anonymity, said: “My attempt was not to have individuals investigated [by SCI].” Rather, he intended for Ms. Jahoda to look into ways to restructure the program to make it more affordable. In his email, he said “I don’t think anyone involved is a bad actor or out to enrich themselves at the expense of our students.” The teacher stressed that he intended for the email to “begin a conversation that would lead to increased access to test prep for all students.”
Upon hearing of the investigation, he said, “In this environment, we’ve lost a lot of trust, so what would be a routine disagreement turns into an [SCI] investigation.”
In a previous interview with Ms. Jahoda, she said she “cannot” discuss anything related to the current investigation.
The Department of Education (DOE) prohibits certain financial relationships between school faculty and students. According to DOE guidelines, “Examples of prohibited financial relationships include…[tutoring] a student or students, outside school, for pay directly from a parent, or through a separate entity [on] test preparation.”
Guidance counselor Jeremy Wang, who was organizing the junior college trip with the PTA, was asked by Assistant Principal of Pupil Personnel Services Veronica York to stop planning the trip until Ms. Jahoda provided a response to Ms. Karlic, as guidance must work with the PTA to plan the trip (as it is not a school-sponsored trip).
Mr. Wang explained that “the funding process for the college trip is similar” to the PTA program. Students pay money to the PTA that would be used for expenses like the hotel and the bus. Teacher chaperones on the trip are then paid through the money collected by the PTA from students. Given that an investigation was launched on the SAT program, those planning the trip want Ms. Jahoda to confirm that it will not lead to further investigations before moving forward.
Mr. Wang said that though the trip was previously scheduled for March 31 to April 1, now, should the trip receive approval, the trip would be rescheduled for May following Advanced Placement examinations. He expressed concern over this, as he wanted the trip to coincide with college spring breaks: “This is going to affect juniors because it defeats the purpose…[which] is to beat the crowd.”
Junior Shanyah Mitchell, who went on the college trip in the fall, said that her experience was “really nice,” and that the college tour provided her with “a chance to see some new schools I probably wouldn’t have seen on my own.”
Regarding the delay, though Shanyah believes it’s still a good time to have the trip after AP exams, she said “There needs to be an explanation.”
Junior Pascal Marcktell also went on the college trip and felt that “The trip was run pretty well. We got to visit a lot of schools [and] we learned a lot about different colleges. [The colleges] all gave good tours that helped many of us experience college for the first time.” He also felt that “kids should get to see these schools as soon as possible.”
On the SAT program, Ms. Karlic explained, “This program was a successful program both for the students…. but also for the PTA.”
Students who participated in the SAT program said it was successful. Senior Shenez Stuart said “It was pretty helpful; my SAT score did improve.”
Ms. Karlic said, “Currently, we are ready to contact both Ms. Jahoda and Ms. Fee to advise that we are unable to pay for everything on our budget due to the lack of expected fundraising from our programs.” She added, “Our funds never come back to us, but only go to help the school.”
Facing a lower level of fundraising, Ms. Karlic said, “Ms. Jahoda had mentioned in her last principal breakfast that she is a great fundraiser so [we] will inquire with her for assistance to help us pay for Townsend programs that we [the PTA] promised to support financially.”
Ms. York said that she does not know if the trip has “been approved to move forward yet.”
When emailed earlier today, Ms. Jahoda responded, “I’m looking into the details of the junior college trip and will follow up with Ms. Karlic and the guidance office.
To be noted: The Classic has corrected an inaccuracy in the article. Previously, we reported that the Office of Special Investigations (OSI) investigated the PTA’s SAT program, but it was the Office of the Special Commissioner of Investigation (SCI) that did so.