ALBANY, Ga. — A tribunal has recommended that Beverly Knighton-Harris, a first-grade teacher at Sylvester Road Elementary School during the 2009 Dougherty County School System CRCT cheating scandal, receive 40 school days without pay.
The recommended penalty will now be considered by the Dougherty County School Board. Knighton-Harris was one of 24 teachers and administrators who Superintendent Joshua Murfree had suggested in early May not have their contracts renewed.
She joins six other DCSS teachers who were handed similar punishment, but allowed to keep their jobs. The pay will be deducted over the course of the 2012-13 school year.
“I have mixed emotions (about the panel’s decision),” Knighton-Harris said. “I still have my job, but 40 days pay is 40 days pay. I appreciate the tribunal’s decision, but this is still bittersweet.”
The tribunal was composed of former Valdosta Schools Superintendent Sam Hall; former Mitchell County School Superintendent Charles Striplin and Former Houston County Principal Ed Dyson, the tribunal chairman.
The panel’s decision surprised some observers who though it would recommend either renewal or the follow the DCSS’s decision to nonrenew Knighton-Harris’ contract.
“I can’t tell you that any one person on the tribunal swayed the decision,” Dyson said. “I know my reason, but I’d rather not say what it is. I do think the decision was fair.”
Knighton-Harris attorney Howard Stiller was not entirely happy with the outcome.
“I am a little disappointed that they did not recommend to reinstate her without restrictions,” Stiller said. “Still, I consider this to be a small victory for my client.”
Like the six teachers before her who agreed to the 40 days without pay, Knighton-Harris was offered the same deal at the same time, but had rejected it.
I am comfortable with the tribunal’s decision. I think it is the fair thing to do,” DCSS attorney Flin Coleman said.
During the hearing, Coleman played a one hour, 20 minute audio of Georgia Bureau of Investigation Special Agent Kristine Smalley’s 2011 interview of Knighton-Harris.
Coleman said the tape showed Knighton-Harris used facial expressions and voice inflection to indicate wrong answers on the CRCT test. Coleman also pointed out that her class had a school-high 49 wrong to right erasures during a reading portion of the test — including 10 by one student.
Knighton-Harris denied she had ever helped students with wrong to right changes.
“What got me was the the high number (of wrong to right erasures),” Knighton-Harris said. “But I never pointed at a child’s test while making a facial expression. And if I had voice inflection it wasn’t intentional. I’m too much of a professional to allow that to happen.
“I followed every instruction in the testing manual.”
The conclusion of Knighton-Harris’ case leaves just one teacher remaining to face the tribunal. Westtown Elementary’s Adrienne Savage, who is accused of giving answers to students, is set to appear before the panel at 9 this morning.
DCSS attorney Tommy Coleman said last month that all the case files of teachers and administrators named in the December report to Gov. Nathan Deal would be forwarded to Georgia Professional Standards Commission for review.