A top administrator in the Tempe Union High School District has confirmed that grades were fixed for a student athlete in 2001 under direction from then-Superintendent James Buchanan, court records indicate.
Maricopa County Superior Court records also show that district officials never investigated to find out if three Desert Vista High School teachers who changed grades for a highly recruited softball player two months after her graduation felt coerced to do so — or even if they authorized the changes.
The NCAA Clearinghouse initially ruled the softball player academically ineligible for an athletic scholarship. But after the grade changes, the NCAA cleared the student to play at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi.
"It’s my understanding that (Buchanan) had been involved in that and believed that everything was appropriate," associate superintendent Steve Adolph said in a deposition taken Nov. 29.
Adolph and other district officials, including Buchanan, provided the depositions in a whistle-blower lawsuit filed in 2003 by former Desert Vista assistant principal Jane Jones. The depositions were recently made available to the public.
Jones alleges in the ongoing lawsuit that Desert Vista principal Joe McDonald recommended her termination in 2002 — despite seven years of sterling performance evaluations — to punish her for speaking up about the grade changes and other policy violations.
She accuses McDonald of illegal hiring practices, preferential treatment for student athletes and making threatening statements to students and staff.
In his Oct. 26 deposition, McDonald said he recommended Jones’ firing because "she was not always a team player." McDonald did not return calls Tuesday seeking comment, and in the past he has declined to comment on the case.
Buchanan said in his deposition that McDonald sometimes made threatening statements, but none of the incidents warranted investigation.
Buchanan said McDonald once told a student to "pick up the trash or I’m going to rip your arm off and hit you over the head with it." But Buchanan described the incident as "simple joking" and said he used the same sort of language with his own children.
Buchanan said he did not ask the student or his parents if they also perceived the comment as joking.