A judge ruled the football coach fired from Trezevant High School for changing student grades should be reinstated, says the former coach’s attorney.

Teli White was suspended three years ago for his part in the scandal after a district investigation, but was fired a year later for the same offense following an investigation by independent law firms.

The ruling means White, who now works for the city of Memphis, could return to his job at the high school.

Chancery Court Judge Jim Kyle ruled Tuesday that the district cannot use the same facts to both suspend and fire White, said his lawyer Darrell O’Neal. Kyle’s decision does not speak to whether or not White had a part in the grading scandal.

Teli White’s lawyer, Darrell O’Neal, speaks to board members defending the former Trezevant High School football coach.
PHOTO CREDIT: Rebecca Griesbach/Chalkbeat

“How can the school district discipline him for this and they disciplined him for the same thing in October?” O’Neal said. “There is no case law that allows you to discipline someone twice for the same offense.”

Although district officials said they fired White because the second investigation uncovered facts they didn’t know during its own investigation, documents submitted to the court show the district did know.

Keith Williams, the executive director of Memphis-Shelby County Education Association, said the district should “recognize its error and how it treats its employees.”

Shelby County Schools said in a statement Wednesday that it “will be exploring all legal options regarding the recent Teli White ruling.”

The school board denied White’s request for reinstatement in June 2018. He filed a complaint in chancery court three weeks later. The judge could have affirmed the district’s decision, reinstated White, or sent the case back to the school board to reconsider.

In 2016, the district launched an investigation into the grade changing scandal after then-principal Ronnie Mackin alerted officials to unexplained changes to student transcripts.

According to a confidential copy of the district’s investigation submitted to the court, officials found “White possessed altered transcripts on his desktop computer for at least eight football players dating back to 2013.” That did not amount to direct evidence of wrongdoing, but when coupled with allegations that White “intentionally misled” district investigators about his knowledge of college sport grade eligibility and student academic performance, the district suspended him for five days without pay.

Shirley Quinn, a school secretary who has since filed a gender discrimination lawsuit against Shelby County Schools, was fired following the district investigation. Her case is still in court.

The final probe revealed that 53 students received diplomas without passing the necessary classes because their grades were changed.

When a seven-page resignation letter from Mackin alleging a cover-up prompted an external probe, investigators found a “pervasive culture” of improper grade changes at Trezevant High School, but the district only recommended firing White.

Trezevant High School in Memphis.
PHOTO CREDIT: Laura Faith Kebede/Chalkbeat

Investigators for Butler Snow, the law firm hired to find out what happened at Trezevant High, agreed with most of the district’s initial findings and publicly released a summary of evidence on White’s computer.

“However, the vast majority of the grade changes for football players made under Quinn’s credentials were for classes that were not taught by Coach White,” the report said.

O’Neal said the ruling did not include back pay for White and is unsure if he will pursue it. Since he was fired two years ago, O’Neal said White has since held a teaching position in Nashville and most recently has been working for Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland as a workforce development specialist.

Update Dec. 18, 2019: This story has been updated with comment from Shelby County Schools.