San Diego Unified spokespeople have publicly denied that students were counseled out of district schools. But documents obtained through a California Public Records Act request show that between fall 2012 and fall 2016, school staff members recommended students find a new high school on at least 238 occasions.

A raft of complaints prompted a San Diego Unified investigation into the school, which found problems ranging from issues with special education to improper hiring practices. The school adamantly denies the findings. School leadership and the board have been disrupted by departures, and some parents have pulled their kids out.

Not only does new data show the lowest-performing students in the class of 2016 were transferring out of San Diego Unified, school officials now admit that’s exactly what has happened in the past – a major reversal after the district vehemently denied that was the case.

A closer look at data from individual high schools reveals a trend that might seem contradictory at first glance: Schools whose graduation rates are rising are simultaneously losing a significant number of students to charter schools and schools in other parts of town.

New records obtained by Voice of San Diego quantify for the first time how many struggling students in the class of 2016 left district high schools and how many of them were not on track to graduate. The records also reveal which schools students left. Top among them were high schools in poorer areas like Lincoln High and Morse High.

San Diego Unified and Grossmont Union are suing to shut down certain charter schools that offer online credit-recovery courses and independent study options, saying they’re illegally operating within their boundaries. Meanwhile, San Diego Unified is expanding its own versions of those programs, hoping to capitalize on the growing market for non-traditional education options and hold onto students who would otherwise leave.