Thu., 10:53am: Search warrants executed in Columbus schools attendance probe

COLUMBUS — Investigators looking into alleged fraud by the Columbus City Schools executed search warrants Thursday, including at schools.

A spokeswoman for Ohio Auditor Dave Yost’s office declined to say how many warrants were involved in the action, but said it was “more than a few.” Officials were seen carrying records out of a high school.

State and federal authorities are investigating Ohio’s largest school district over allegations employees improperly altered the grades or attendance records of struggling students to improve performance ratings.

The probe was prompted by a June 2011 request by Superintendent Gene Harris but it eventually involved several members of her top staff.

In conjunction with the Columbus investigation, Yost launched a statewide review of school district attendance and enrollment tracking changes called “scrubbing.” That separate probe found nine Ohio districts that intentionally removed poor performing students from their rolls and discovered that more than 70 schools or districts had attendance reporting errors that didn’t appear to be purposeful.

Yost’s auditors spread out across the state to investigate a sampling of districts.

The review came after unusual practices were discovered in Toledo and suburban Cincinnati districts, as well as in Columbus. In November, federal authorities joined the investigation into the Columbus schools, and Yost separated the district from the rest of the state probe due to the likelihood of criminal referrals.