By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Anton had two sons at Manual Arts; the older boy was popular and a football standout. The other son, two years younger, showed great promise as an aspiring quarterback, but had borderline grades, which could have threatened his athletic eligibility. The younger brother, Anton Clarkson, also had a rival, Marco Aceituno, who was a year ahead in school and a star student.
Aceituno had one or more of his grades wrongly lowered, according to the school district. Clarkson's were inappropriately raised, according to confidential sources at the school. At one point the school district confirmed that Clarkson's grades had been wrongfully improved, but this month the district declined comment. Several staff members, including assistant principal Anton, had access to student records.
One math teacher told the Weekly that Aceituno had earned an A in his class, but that the grade had come out as a D. To play football, students have to maintain a C average or better. Aceituno's overall GPA was excellent.
Compared to Aceituno, Anton Clarkson had poor grades. "I gave him a C," said one of Clarkson's former social-studies teachers, who added that he was told the grade later "went to an A." This teacher named three other athletes who had grades raised as well, but the Weekly could not verify the allegation. A former office worker, who asked not to be named, also stated that she had seen Anton Clarkson's altered transcript.
Head football coach Glenn Bell declined to discuss specifics but noted that assistant principal Anton "wanted her son to be in a competitive situation. I don't fault any parent for wanting their son in a competitive situation. She's like most parents." Coach Bell also made no apologies for giving Aceituno the nod: "He had the drive on and off the field. I just didn't see the same material in her son."
FORMER ASSISTANT PRINCIPAL ANTON TOLD the Weekly that she changed no grades. Compared to the polished, charismatic Greer, Anton is earthy, plain-speaking, someone whom parent volunteer Edgar O. Hernandez admired for her relentless attempts to reach students. "I saw her in action, especially on breaks or lunch hour, when girls would go and be dressed up very provocative," recalled Hernandez. "She would call them and say, 'You know what? I understand the way you want to dress, but this is not a fashion show, and you got to respect yourself.'" The boys got a similar message. "She gave a lot, a lot," said Hernandez. "To be very loving when a student would need it, and very tough when a student would need that."
Both Irene Anton and Anton Clarkson's father, Steve Clarkson, whom she divorced in 1988, have long LAUSD pedigrees. Anton is the niece of retired Superintendent Bill Anton, whose wife, Donnalyn Jaque-Antón, is currently an associate superintendent.
Steve Clarkson was a prep football star at L.A.'s Wilson High who eventually played pro ball. The elder Clarkson is revered locally as a prep quarterback guru whose teen clients have sometimes switched to different high schools to get better playing opportunities, better coaching or better exposure, which is what Anton Clarkson did in the middle of his sophomore year.
Irene Anton insisted that there was never a quarterback conflict at Manual Arts, because Aceituno was the upperclassman and had the job. The coaches, at any rate, were strongly committed to Aceituno, who was older, talented and, in the words of one coach, "everything you'd want a son to be."
Anton Clarkson's new school, Venice High, was a better fit, said Irene Anton: "Anton's style is that of a passing quarterback, not a running quarterback. Manual Arts doesn't pass the ball. Venice is very much a passing offense."
Both students went on to become star quarterbacks. Overall, the Venice team was more successful, and Anton Clarkson made the all-city squad.
Aceituno, now an undergraduate at USC, preferred not to discuss the grade-changing incident, but he confirmed that at least one of his grades had been wrongly lowered. At his June 2000 graduation, Aceituno was honored as valedictorian of B track at the year-round school.
Anton Clarkson, though less successful off the gridiron, graduated with his Venice High class in June 2001. In February, Oregon State announced it had signed the 6-foot-2, 205-pound quarterback to a "letter of intent" pending completion of college "eligibility requirements" at Venice High.
LAST AUGUST, THE SCHOOL DISTRICT'S INSPECtor general issued a "Fraud Alert," stating that student records at Manual Arts "were altered to show a student had passed specific proficiency tests (which are required for graduation) when he or she had not," that "unauthorized" proficiency tests were administered, that "records were changed to show a student had passed a required class when he or she had not," that "records were changed to reflect higher class standing and grade-point average," that "large numbers of ineligible students were allowed to participate in graduation ceremonies" and that "many ineligible students received diplomas and district records show them as having graduated."
The school district won't release its report, but county prosecutors reviewed it. In a response to the school district, prosecutors concluded, "A credible case has been made that officials at Manual Arts High School altered Student Cumulative Records beginning in the 1998-99 school year and continuing into the 2000-01 school year." Moreover, school officials covered up their efforts to graduate ineligible students by forging the initials of "those persons whose responsibility it was to maintain the integrity of the files," in the words of Deputy District Attorney Scott Goodwin. The prosecutor also wrote, "Several school administrators were involved in raising, and sometimes lowering, student grades without the knowledge or consent of the appropriate teachers."