NYC school ‘falsifies’ credits with Dungeons & Dragons

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By Dan Sears

It’s not readin’ or writin’ — but roleplay.

A Brooklyn high school gives students English credits for playing Dungeons & Dragons — a practice teachers blast as shameless scholastic sorcery, The Post has learned.

It’s one of the wizardly ways that Gotham Professional Arts Academy achieved a 91% percent graduation rate last year — despite 79% of students marked chronically absent and half deemed unprepared for college.

“During the course of the semester, I’d say I wrote about three to four paragraphs,” said a Gotham student who notched an English credit by enrolling in the twice-weekly D&D meets.

“It’s more of a club,” a classmate agreed.

Last school year, 16 Gotham students received an English credit for D&D — and everyone got an “A” from teacher Jason Smith, records show.

Last semester, eight kids in D&D earned a “P” for passing.

Smith did not return messages seeking an explanation.

Gotham Professional Arts Academy, principal Robert (Rob) Michelin
Gotham Professional Arts Academy principal Robert Michelin has been “falsifying credits by awarding students credits for courses they did not take,” teachers alerted DOE officials.
LinkedIn Robert Michelin

In another club masquerading as an academic course, teachers say, at least 26 students scored English credits for “Scrapbooking,” in which students can create a display of photos from their phones. 

All students at the Prospect Heights school also get English, social studies, and health credits for “Crew” – homeroom-type periods without any curriculum or classwork, staffers say.

Gotham’s parent coordinator is listed on Department of Education records as one of the teachers, though she is not a licensed instructor.

“For years now, our principal, Robert Michelin, has been falsifying credits by awarding students credits for courses they did not take,” a group of outraged teachers alerted top DOE officials in emails last July.

Dungeons and dragons game in progress
Gotham Professional Arts Academy had a 91% graduation rate last year, but only 53% were deemed prepared for college.
Helayne Seidman

The 207-student Gotham is the latest DOE high school where teachers have blown the whistle on fraudulent shortcuts aimed at helping administrators look good — and boosting the city’s graduation rate. Major scandals have erupted at Dewey HS in Brooklyn — where kids called a massive scheme “Easy Pass”– and Maspeth HS in Queens, where students dubbed their passing ease the “Maspeth Minimum.”

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Michelin also makes Gotham teachers use an “incredibly inflated” grading system, staffers complain.

On a scale of 0 to 4, students can earn a passing C-minus with a score as low as .49, according to the Gotham staff handbook.

“Students can do almost nothing and still pass,” the teachers told a top deputy to Chancellor David Banks. 

Dungeons and dragons players
Gotham Professional Arts Academy awarded English credits toward graduation for a Dungeons & Dragons “class.”
Newsday via Getty Images

The grading scale has no Ds; Fs are “highly discouraged,” and “teachers are verbally pressured to pass students,” they wrote.

DOE data suggest the school takes major shortcuts: All Gotham students arrived as freshmen last year with failing scores on 8th-grade math and English exams, yet they accumulated credits in 9th and 10th grades faster than peers elsewhere in the city. 

The school’s chronic absenteeism is worse than the 40% citywide average — hitting 79% last year with kids missing more than 18 days each.

The “college readiness” rate of students prepared to enroll in CUNY without remedial help was 53% percent last year.

D&D gamepiece
Gotham also awards academic credits to all students for homeroom-type periods with no classwork, whistleblowers say.
MediaNews Group via Getty Images

While 50% of Gotham grads enrolled in college, only 33% of them returned for a second year, the DOE data show.

With a focus on art and culture, Gotham is one of the DOE’s 49 “Consortium, International and Outward Bound” high schools.

Students are exempt from taking state Regents exams but instead must complete five “thesis-like” papers in core subjects.

Like all New York students, they have to earn 44-course credits to graduate.

One of the eight required English credits can be gained at Gotham via Dungeons & Dragons, the tabletop role-playing game, transcripts show.

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“Do you enjoy fantastical worlds filled with dragons and wizards and monsters galore?” Gotham describes the sessions. “We teach the fundamental skills needed to play the game.” 

D&D is listed at many DOE high schools as an extracurricular activity or club — not an academic class.

More galling, the teachers say, the school gives all students English and other academic credits for twice-weekly advisory or homeroom periods – called Crew in the consortium, which describes them as “community-building.” 

“We basically, like, chill,” as one teen put it.

“It’s like a study hall. There’s no teaching going on,” a Gotham staffer explained, adding that teachers are often not certified in the subjects for which credits are given.

Gotham’s parent coordinator, Diamond Stanislaus, is listed as the teacher for “Looking for an Argument”  and “Legacy” – Crew periods coded as credit-bearing English courses.

Stanislaus also is the instructor listed for “Master Class Barber,” a “human-services” elective.

D&D game pieces and books
“We basically, like, chill,” a Gotham teen said of the homeroom-like “Crew” advisories which come with academic credits.
Toronto Star via Getty Images

Reached this week, Stanislaus, who is not a licensed teacher, would not explain her role.

Whistleblowers, who requested anonymity because they fear retaliation, said they have repeatedly complained to Superintendent Alan Cheng, who was hired by Chancellor Banks to oversee the consortium schools. 

In an email to Cheng last July, whistleblowers named two students who had graduated after moving to a different state, and two who graduated “despite not attending or submitting assignments.”

Other students  “were given 2-3 gym credits for classes that did not occur.”

“Most seniors from 2022 graduated with missing PBATs,” it adds, referring to the five “performance-based” projects required instead of Regents exams.

The staffers have begged Cheng to conduct an audit of Gotham.

As a deputy superintendent in 2019, Cheng was present at Maspeth HS while DOE investigators interviewed students about credit fraud and grade-fixing allegations that led to the principal’s removal.

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Cheng agreed to look into the Gotham complaints, but took no apparent action, teachers say. Staffers then wrote to Desmond Blackburn, Banks’ deputy chancellor for leadership – whose main duty was to oversee the superintendents.

Blackburn did not respond.

He quit the DOE in February after one year in the $265,000 job.

“It is clear the DOE is complicit in credit fraud, and truly does not care,” a disgusted teacher told The Post.

“They need to get the higher-ups to respond,” said David Bloomfield, a Brooklyn College and CUNY Grad Center education professor. “Did they look into whether anything improper is going on? A DOE response is necessary to reassure students, parents, and the public that all academic standards are met.”

Gotham professional arts academy
Gotham staffers complain the DOE has done nothing to stop the alleged credit fraud, calling top officials “complicit.”
Helayne Seidman

The Special Commissioner of Investigation for city schools received a complaint about Principal Michelin in September 2020, citing academic misconduct “among many other allegations,” a spokesperson said. 

The SCI sent the complaint to the DOE’s Office of Special Investigations, the spokesperson added.

The DOE referred questions about Michelin to CSA, the principal’s union. A CSA spokesman said the 2020 complaint was “unsubstantiated,” but had no further comment.

Michelin did not answer The Post’s emailed questions.

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