ALBANY — The first four teachers to appear before an administrative hearing in connection with CRCT test cheating scandal within Dougherty County's elementary schools on Tuesday agreed to 60-day suspensions without pay.
Terrell County attorney T. Gamble was the hearing officer and the tribunal was made up of current and former school administrators, including Scott Chestnutwood of Tifton, Wanda West of Macon and Jack Willis of Panama City Beach, Fla.
Chestnutwood is a retired superintendent of Tift County Schools. West is a member of the Bibb County Board of Education. Willis is a retired Wheeler County Elementary School principal.
Earlier in the morning session, Chris Cohilas, the attorney for Jennifer Smith of Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary and Alberta Wallace of Sherwood Acres, and the school system attorney Flin Coleman said they had reached the 60-day suspension without pay agreement, which now must be approved by the administrative tribunal.
"Undeniably there was organized cheating going on, and it was coming from administrators." Cohilas told the tribunal. "We (he and Wallace) talked long and hard about litigating before this tribunal, but the agreement is fair and we humbly ask that you accept it."
Later in the afternoon, Turner Elementary's Fatima Jackson, represented by Maurice King, and Lavonda Jolivette, represented by Herbert Benson, also agreed to identical 60-day suspensions without pay.
Coleman cited pressure for their to well on the tests was the incentive for most of the teachers. That brought a sharp response from tribunal member Jack Willis.
"Pressure is what teaching is all about," said Willis. "What kind of message are we sending to our children?'
All four teachers in Tuesday's session were accused of prompting students to change some answers - a violation of signed CRCT testing protocol - but were not accused of organized cheating.
The tribunal has to act within five days. At that point, their recommendation will go before the school board which will have the opportunity to accept or reject the recommendation.
All three of the tribunal members declined comment about the cases, with Willis adding he did not want his comments to possibly prejudice future appearances before the panel.
The appearance of the four teachers on Tuesday leaves 15 DCSS educators remaining to appear before the tribunals.
In December, an investigative team consisting of former Georgia Attorney General Mike Bowers, former DeKalb County District Attorney Robert Wilson, former Atlanta police detective Richard Hyde and Georgia Bureau of Investigation agents completed a four-month probe into alleged CRCT in the system’s 16 elementary schools.
The resulting 293-page report cited a “failure of leadership at all levels, including the Board of Education, contributed to cheating in DCSS.”
The report named 49 system teachers and administrators. Over the past few months, some of the teachers and principals resigned or retired, some were were fired and some were no longer in the system.
The BOE reassigned 12 teachers to the Isabella Complex and removed three principals to the Exceptional Students Program.
Those teachers and administrators were among 24 whose contracts were not renewed by the system in mid June.
In late June, five teachers who had been cited in the state investigators’ report were rehired by the board, while two paraprofessionals were terminated. At that time DCSS Attorney Tommy Coleman said in those five cases the school system couldn’t find evidence to corroborate the state report.