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County prosecutor clears ousted principal of Detroit’s Marygrove school of criminal actions

Nir Saar, right, and Superintendent Nikolai Vitti on the first day of classes at the School at Marygrove, the ambitious new school Saar helped found. He has been placed on administrative leave.
Nir Saar, right, and Superintendent Nikolai Vitti on the first day of classes at the School at Marygrove, the ambitious new school Saar helped found. He has been placed on administrative leave.
Michael Gerstein

The Wayne County prosecutor cleared former principal Nir Saar of criminal activity on Wednesday.

Saar, the first principal of the ambitious new School at Marygrove in Detroit, was placed on administrative leave two months after the school first opened its doors. The district’s inspector general alleged that he inflated student grades, falsified attendance records, and ignored legal requirements around suspending students with disabilities from Mumford Academy in 2017-2018 while he was principal there.

“After a careful review of the facts and evidence it has been determined that there is insufficient evidence to justify recommending criminal charges,” according to a statement from the office of Kym Worthy, Wayne County prosecuting attorney.

The prosecutor’s statement does not mention Saar by name, only referring to the former principal of Mumford Academy. Saar was principal of the Academy during the period in question.

Saar did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

It isn’t clear what his future holds with the district or the School at Marygrove. He is still on paid administrative leave from the Detroit Public Schools Community District while it conducts its own investigation.

“We will rely on the [inspector general’s] report and findings while conducting our own district investigation to determine if disciplinary action is warranted,” Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said in a statement.

A few months after Saar’s abrupt departure in September, his replacement, interim principal Adrian Monge, also left the school. Christa Reeves is currently principal after being transferred from another district school.

Saar’s star began to rise during his tenure at Mumford Academy, where he oversaw impressive academic improvements at the experimental “school-within-a-school” program. When the Academy was consolidated under new district leadership, Saar was tapped to lead an ambitious new project on the campus of the shuttered Marygrove College.

District officials have maintained that turnover in the principal’s office at the Marygrove school won’t hinder the effectiveness of the new program, which combines a state-of-the-art teacher residency program, a project-based curriculum, and eventually an on-site preschool.

The prosecutor declined to charge Saar for three separate alleged crimes.

The first, grade inflation, was connected to a “no zeroes” policy that Saar maintained at Mumford Academy, which held that students would not receive a zero for work they failed to turn in.

Saar maintained that the policy is supported by research, according to the prosecutor’s statement.

The statement continues: “There are no explicit State or DPS grading requirements beyond vague guidelines that reflect a student’s comprehension of the taught material. There are no rules or regulations that prevented the principal from implementing a ‘no zeros’ grading policy.”

The second allegation, that Saar inflated his school’s attendance count, isn’t supported by the school’s attendance records, the prosecutor found.

Saar was also accused of pushing special needs students out of school for more than 10 days without following legal requirements for consulting with parents.

According to the prosecutor’s office, “A review of the evidence shows that one of the highlighted students was not actually an ESE student. The evidence reviewed regarding the other three students does not show that they were formally expelled or taken out of school for more than ten days.”

Read the prosecutor’s full statement here:

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