School officials fear that college admissions were compromised for more than a dozen seniors at Baltimore's prestigious Western High School because the school failed to send complete application materials.
"Shortly before the spring break, I learned that some college admissions materials required from the school — transcripts, school profiles, and recommendations — were not received by all of the colleges to which our students applied," Principal Alisha Trusty wrote in a letter, posted Friday on the school's website and sent home with students who may have been affected. "This is totally unacceptable to me."
Trusty said she immediately contacted the parents of 24 students who had not been accepted to any college. City schools spokeswoman Edie House-Foster said 10 of those students were subsequently admitted to one or more schools, leaving 14 members in a class of 187 still waiting.
"We are still ascertaining how many students and applications may have been affected," Trusty wrote. "However, we believe that some students' applications were incomplete and some colleges and financial aid institutions were unable to make their decisions with the full information."
Vanessa Burrell, president of the school's Student Parent Involvement Network, said she wasn't aware of the situation until a reporter called her late Friday afternoon.
"I have a major problem with that as a parent and member of the PTA," she said. "I think the school owes us an explanation. This is something we might have been able to help with if we had known more information."
Western, the nation's oldest all-girls public school, was designated a 2009-2010 National Blue Ribbon School and routinely places all of its students in college. Its alumni include state schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick and Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.
Trusty wrote that the school is investigating the cause of the application oversights and "will hold anyone found to be responsible accountable as appropriate once we know all the facts."
Trusty said Western officials will also reach out to colleges that did not receive complete application materials in hopes of securing admission for the affected students.
"For any senior who has concerns or questions regarding their college application status, we are committed to continuing to offer ongoing support from Western's college advising office both now and after they graduate," Trusty wrote. "As a school family, we are committed to helping our students take the next step after they leave Western."
The situation is curious, because most colleges notify students via email, letter or phone call when their applications are incomplete.
"A lot of the responsibility then falls on the student for keeping track of the application," said Brian Hazlett, director of undergraduate admissions at Towson University.
The Johns Hopkins University sends emails to students in early February, letting them know about specific gaps in their applications. In the case of Baltimore students, said admissions director John Latting, the university often makes follow-up calls to the individual student or school.
Latting said it's unusual for problems not to be remedied after those steps.
It is unclear why such safeguards did not catch the problems at Western, and House-Foster said city school officials still don't know. She said part of the investigation will be "making sure everyone is following the protocols that are already in place."
Hazlett said Towson received almost 60 applications from Western this year and that fewer than 10 were left incomplete, a fairly common percentage. "That tells me they're doing a good job of keeping track of the deadlines," he said.
Admissions counselors offered mixed forecasts for Western students who still haven't received college decisions.
Hazlett said that at Towson, he tries never to deny a student who would otherwise be admitted because of problems with an application. "My policy is, we always make it right," he said. "We'll admit the student, even if it's well after the deadline."
Private universities such as Loyola and Hopkins also try to be flexible but tend to lock in their classes by late March. "By the last week of March, we're literally printing our letters of acceptance and making final adjustments," Latting said.
Burrell, who has daughters in the 10th and 11th grades at Western, said she won't be happy until she receives clear explanations for the missed deadlines. "Even if it's only 14 girls, that's too many," she said. "We're supposed to be a college preparatory school."