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An 'A' in Fraud 

It was too good -- and too bad -- to be true. For three years, investigators conclude, Manual Arts High School administrators graduated ineligible students and tampered with students' grades

Wednesday, Jul 17 2002
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Independent of the school district, the Weekly learned of school fund-raisers for which there was neither documentation nor approval, which is against district policy. These fund-raisers included having students and coaches collect money from drivers who parked on school grounds during football games at the nearby Coliseum. No records show how much money came in nor how it was spent. Assistant Principal Irene Anton: Did she change student grades?

The Weekly found that grant funding also was not fully accounted for and that some funds were spent for purposes other than originally specified in the grant. Moreover, in the case of the two grants examined by the Weekly, materials for auditing the grant were not readily available, even though their availability was a condition of funding. But again, it's not clear that funds were misused. Greer's only response to questions about school finances was, "Principals rarely, if ever, touch moneys made from student fund-raisers."

The school district won't release its report on alleged grade-changing, but the District Attorney's Office reviewed LAUSD documentation and agreed with school-system investigators that some grades had been raised and others lowered. The district has acknowledged one example of a lowered grade, that of a student competing for school quarterback with the son of assistant principal Irene Anton.

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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."

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