BESSEMER, AL (WBRC) - Last week, several freshmen in Bessemer were set to begin the journey of navigating the new world of high school…or so they thought.
By Friday, they were back in middle school, thanks to a mix-up involving a program that was supposed to help them succeed.
The parents of a dozen students enrolled in the Plato program at Bessemer City Middle School were informed Friday that their children must return to complete required eighth-grade classes, according to a letter from Superintendent Dr. Keith A. Stewart.
"To be promoted from the eighth grade to the ninth, students must pass their English, Math, Science and Social Studies classes during the school year or during summer school," Stewart said in the letter. "I know this decision is disappointing to you and your child but as the chief instructional leader of the district, I have a duty to ensure every child has an opportunity to be successful academically."
The Plato program, started at the school in 2014, was designed to help students who failed a grade at some point in middle school to catch up so they could graduate with their peers. The students took seventh-grade classes from August to December and eighth-grade classes the rest of the year.
No evidence of eighth-grade classes or grades could be produced for the 12 students affected, according to Stewart.
Parents of Plato participants also didn't recieve updates on eighth-grade classes on report cards.
Stewart confirms that he called and visited the school in search of grades for Plato students so he could approve them moving on to high school. He says the school couldn't produce them.
"What did we teach?" he said he asked the administration.
They couldn't produce anything he asked for, which he said left him no choice but to hold the students back.
"I want what's best for children, unfortunately, we have to make tough decisions," he said. "Right now it's disappointing for kids to go back to 8th grade. I can't look the other way as superintendent."
Additionally, Stewart said the program ended in 2016 after the state investigated grade changes at the high school.
"We're deeply sorry for this, but we have a plan to work with the students to get on track to where they can graduate and they can meet requirements to move on to the next grade," he told WBRC Monday morning.
Stewart said there is plenty of blame to go around in the situation.
"We failed the students as a district," he said.
He didn't approve the continuation of the program at the middle school.
This story is developing.