Maybe we'll never know the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth about former Kentucky player Eric Bledsoe's high school academic records. An independent review commissioned by the Birmingham City Schools concluded that some grades in class records were changed, but Superintendent Craig Witherspoon decided on Friday there was not enough evidence to declare Bledsoe's transcript invalid.
The man who led the independent review, former federal judge U.W. Clemon, acknowledged that his panel worked under a handicap. None of the grade books from Bledsoe's 11th grade year at Birmingham's now defunct Hayes High School were made available nor were nine of the 15 grade books from his senior year at Parker High.
"So the vast majority of the underlying data with which we had expected to work with was missing," Clemon said Monday.
When asked what hindrance those missing documents were to the review, Clemon said, "It was a significant barrier to reaching a complete conclusion."
Alabama law requires that teachers keep grade books for three years. Why did the teachers in most of Bledsoe's classes not keep his grade books? "That's a question that you all have to ask," said Clemon, presumably meaning the media.
Afrika Parchman, an attorney for the Birmingham City Schools, said the system will work in the future to better ensure teachers follow the law.
"Bledsoe was originally at Hayes High School," she wrote in an e-mail. "Hayes closed down and apparently many of the items were not preserved properly in the transition. This was the reason that many of the grade books could not be located. . . . The board is in the process of reviewing our procedures to ensure that grade books are secured for the required three-year period."
Alan Milstein, a New Jersey-based attorney representing Bledsoe, said that publicity before and after the review displeased the former UK player.
"He's not too happy the way the whole thing has gone down," Milstein said. "This absolutely unfounded attack on his character and integrity is bizarre. . . .
"The amount of time spent going over this kid's Algebra 2 grades is just incredible and an outrage."
A story in The New York Times last spring reported that NCAA investigators had asked questions about Bledsoe's high school career and college recruitment. A follow-up story in The Birmingham News detailed large improvements in his grades after transferring to Parker High. That story also reported that Bledsoe got an "A" in Algebra 3 before then taking Algebra 2.
After The New York Times story, the Birmingham City Schools hired the Birmingham-based law firm of White Arnold & Dowd to see if grades had been changed.
"The only two people who know what happened were the teacher and Eric," said Milstein, a former law partner of Bledsoe's agent, Leon Rose. "The teacher said Eric did extra work and that's why the grade was changed."
Clemon's review panel interviewed the teacher, Larry Webster, and found his explanation not credible.
When asked why the panel did not find Webster credible, Clemon said, "Well, I guess it comes down to, you know, whether you believe someone or whether you don't."
Webster could not produce any proof that Bledsoe had done extra work to base a grade change, Clemon said.
Milstein scoffed at the notion that a teacher would keep any student's school work beyond the academic year.
Bledsoe's attorney also denounced the panel for not speaking to the former UK player. "It just totally amazes me that they didn't have the courtesy or professional integrity to pick up the phone and try to get Eric Bledsoe to tell his side of the story," Milstein said.
Clemon noted the panel's limited charge: to determine if grades were changed.
"We assumed that he had no power to change his grades," Clemon said of Bledsoe. "And if he had no power to change a grade, what's the point of talking to him?"
The panel's four-page report noted that 17 of Bledsoe's 24 grades in his senior year had been "conspicuously changed."
Clemon said the panel used the word "conspicuously" because "If you look at the grade books, it would be very, very clear to you changes were made. You could see that numbers had been written over. In many instances, you could make out what the original entry was."
Bledsoe's attorney argued that there's nothing notable about a teacher changing a grade to reflect factors such as makeup work.
"When they say grades were changed, they're not saying anything bad about that," Milstein said. "Anybody who's been through grade school knows you get a grade, the teacher says you can do extra work and then the teacher will change the grade to a higher grade based on the extra work. That's what happened."
Hours after the Birmingham City Schools made the Bledsoe report public, UK spokesman DeWayne Peevy declared the case closed.
The Birmingham City Schools agreed.
"Yes, as far as Eric Bledsoe is concerned," Parchman wrote in an e-mail.