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Monday , July 16 2018
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Tag Archives: episd cheating

EPISD Cheating Scheme Trial: Vanessa Foreman Testifies on Methods of Cheating Accountability

As the trial of former El Paso ISD Administrators continued in U.S. District Court, testimony presented Tuesday indicated that evidence of irregularities and disappearing 10th graders at the El Paso Independent School District began popping up in the Spring of 2009.

Then questions from the FBI put pressure on district administrators, causing then-superintendent Lorenzo Garcia pressure his co-conspirators to sign prepared affidavits stating they and the district had not done anything unlawful.

On Tuesday, former Jefferson High School Assistant Principal Mairbel Guillen and Vanessa Foreman, a former Priority Schools Division Director for the district, testified.

Foreman, who pled guilty in June 2016 to one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States, offered her testimony in the hopes of receiving probation.  Foreman’s final sentence will be determined on July 11 by U.S. District Court Judge David Briones.

She was among several co-conspirators in the district scheme to defraud the United States. Others who pled guilty last year include former Associate Superintendent of Priority Schools Damon Murphy, who testified last week; and Assistant Principal Maria Flores.

Former EPISD administrators facing charges for their involvement in the scheme are Nancy Love, Diane Thomas and Mark Philip Tegmeyer, assistant principals at Austin High School; James Anderson, Associate Superintendent and John Tanner, principal at Austin High School.

Through the use of minimesters, falsifying grades, discouraging enrollment and other credit recovery methods, several individuals attempted to skirt state ad federal accountability measures.

Former Jefferson High School Principal Steven Lane had testified on Monday.

According to media reports of his testimony, Lane had testified that he was against the use of minimesters and had called them “a joke.”

Students at Jefferson High School that were limited English Proficient were given methods to receive credits to help them graduate. Students, who were to also enter into the 10th grade that could be a risk to accountability had been discouraged to register.

Lane was fired by Garcia when he refused to be part of the scheme. He was later reinstated, and then fired again a few months later. Lane had been speaking to the FBI -and that was the subject that interested the district.

On Tuesday, Guillen, who had worked under Lane, said she was called into Central Office and asked in a meeting about her conversations with FBI agents and if she knew

anything about Lane’s conversations with them.

Guillen said she was questioned by Ron Ederer, the school district attorney and Anderson. During a second meeting, an affidavit had been prepared for her to sign. It stated that the district had not done anything wrong; and that she had no knowledge of wrong doing.

Guillen said she refused to sign it.

“I didn’t sign it because it was not accurate,” Guillen said.

Like Guillen, Foreman had also been called in to sign a prepared affidavit. Foreman too refused to sign it, but began to feel pressure by Anderson to do so.

“I didn’t sign it because it seemed like it was more for the district than it was for us,” she said.

At one point during her meeting with Ederer he had a tape recorder on, then turned it off and asked her,”What did you do?”

Foreman said she felt uneasy. So, instead of signing the affidavit before her, Foreman left, and opted to make her own statement.

During Foreman’s testimony she said she believed what she was doing was wrong butnot “unlawful” until she was questioned by the FBI. Foreman also stated that she felt intimidated by the FBI.

During cross examination Robert Perez, attorney for Anderson, asked why she felt uneasy about the FBI.

“I felt like they were getting frustrated because they would ask me things that I didn’t know much about, and I felt I should have because of my position.” She added that at times the agents would make frustrated faces.

Foreman then put a stop to the interview with the FBI when questions revolving a grade came up.

Something Amiss

As minimesters were implemented, credits rewarded and students withheld from taking the TAKS test, several administrators began to notice that something was awry.

Brenda Booth, director of assessment at EPISD was charged with the ordering and distribution of standardized tests for the district while working at Region 19. Booth was charged with specifically test assessment and administering credit by exam, bilingual testing, gifted and talented testing and training at the Educational Service Center at Region 19.

During the 2009 school year Booth said she noticed that 48 students from Austin High School had been jumped from the 10th to the 11th grade without having taken the TAKS. Overall, Booth said that there were more than 600 students in the district that were classified the same way.

“I shared my concerns with my supervisor and Dr. Damon Murphy,” she said. “I wasvery strongly voicing my opinion to them because of the logistical nightmare this would cause in testing.”

During a meeting with Murphy, Anderson, Associate Superintendent of Research and Evaluation Joseph Lopez, Gina Oaxaca and Adela Montoya, Booth told Murphy that the reclassification of students was unethical.

“He then said he had not been told by Ms. Oaxaca that it was not allowable,”Booth said. “We disagreed strongly.”

Booth said she and her supervisor, Dr. James Steinhauser called the Texas Education Agency regarding the issue of the untested students.

Later, when the El Paso Times reported on allegations from Texas Senator Eliot Shapleigh that indicated the district was “disappearing” students to skirt accountability measures, the TEA contacted Booth and asked that she look into it.

“They had a tax election coming up and they wanted me to look into this,” Booth said citing that the agency wanted good press.

Booth said she told Steinhauser about TEA’s request. Steinhauser then contacted Terri Jordan,former chief of staff. (Jordan was later named interim when Garcia was arrested, but resigned when her involvement in the scheme was revealed.)

Jordan directed that Booth turn the investigation over to Anderson and provide him with TEA’s number.

Anderson then told her he would request that TEA conduct an audit.

Booth added that she had expressed her concerns early in 2008 as well when Damon Murphy had launched a pilot program in an effort to speed up the process of testing students out of Limited English Proficiency classes by testing them mid-year instead of at the end of the year as was commonly practiced.

Students who went through this pilot program took the Stanford Limited English Proficiency test, were assessed on their verbal skills and their written skills based on their previous performance on any TAKS test, and writing sample from their courses. Through this pilot program a large majority passing, thereby re-categorizing them from 10th graders to 11th graders mid-year and avoiding their requirement to take the TAKS test.

“I remember that I voiced my concerns when students were being changed mid-year,” Booth said.

Jefferson and Austin High School

Prior to taking on her role as Director of Priority Schools, with Jefferson and later Austin High School under her purview, Foreman was teaching at the elementary school level. She later moved up and as an assistant principal and later principal in that realm.

Then Damon Murphy asked her to apply for the position of Director of Priority Schools. Foreman was not interested believing that the role would restrict her to Central Office.

Murphy later approached her again and during a meeting told her she would not be stuck at Central Office. Foreman applied and awarded the position of Director of Priority schools with Anderson as her direct supervisor.

During her third year she was given her first high school to get out of Accountability Jail. It was Jefferson High School.

“I was not received well by Dr. Lane, who was the principal at the time because he said I didn’t have any high school experience,” she said. She added that Anderson did not like Lane and would always complain about him.

“There were numerous things that would come up, it was always something,” Foreman said. “I know that Dr. Lane would get verbal and written reprimands.”

Foreman said Anderson’s concern at Jefferson High School was maintaining the LEP population. She added that the concern was over the pilot program that Murphy had implemented.

In an email dated Sept. 23, 2009, Anderson told directors, “To have all the (LEP) students exited and reclassified by the PEIMS snapshot date.”

The PEIMS snapshot provides demographic information from each district’s campus to the TEA. That demographic information includes race, nationality, and subgroups such as Limited English Proficiency students, and students classified as Special needs or SpED.

Foreman added that there was pressure to “upsccore” the students’ grade in the pilot program during their assessments in the pilot program, in an effort to get them out of LEP. When asked if taking students out of LEP, when they weren’t ready, would harm them. Foreman answered affirmatively.

When asked if students who skipped the 10th grade or if students who were held back in the 9th grade were at risk, Foreman said yes.

“Students who repeated the 9th grade are at higher risk to drop out and LEP students are at risk to begin with,” she said.

Minimesters also proved to be a problem. First, Foreman said that grading was very subjective and there was no guide to determine mastery of a subject. An exhibit presented to the jury showed that students who took the minimester course at Jefferson High School received a grade of 70.

During cross examination Perez asked Foreman if she thought it was strange, given that grades were subjective.

“Why would they all be 70s?” Perez asked.

“I have no idea,” Foreman said. “It doesn’t make sense. It just appears like a bunch of 70s.”

Foreman said Dr. Lane was concerned over the use of minimesters to obtain credit, and discussed summer school as the better option.

Shortly after, Lane had been removed from the school.

Foreman said she found out about his removal during a lunch with Priscilla Terrazas, a former director of priority schools, and a friend at Pelican’s Restaurant. When she returned to Central Office Dr. Garcia and Anderson asked her to write a letter about Lane citing how he had been counter productive.

“They denied that he had been walked out of the school by the campus police,” Foreman said. “They said ‘no, that’s not what happened.”

Foreman did write some comments in a memo concerning Lane, but she didn’t the comments would classify Lane as worthy of termination.

Attendance and Credit Issues

Other issues regarding attendance also emerged as Assistant Principals signed off on documents that rewarded credit to students who had been present 75 percent or less during the school year.

This was occurring at other high schools that came under the charge of Foreman. They included Irvin, Andres, Austin and Burges. “This was against the law,” Foreman said. She then recalled talking to Burges High School Principal Randall Woods.

“I told him that the practice of signing off credit was not following education code. But apparently he did not follow the directive based on the Weaver Report showing that numerous credits had been restored.”

When Foreman approached Anderson with the issue, he said, it was the principal’s prerogative and it was policy.

Then at Austin, in 2012, Assistant Principal Diane Thomas sought help in finding missing credits for seniors. “Ms. Thomas needed help to restore credits to seniors that had already graduated.”

Under the direction of Anderson, Foreman conducted an audit from June 2012 to November 2012 with principal Tanner at Austin High School. Foreman said her initial findings, without Tanner, found 110 seniors were missing core credits. With that, she then asked questions and told administrators at Austin High School that they needed to pull records in the event that they made mistakes.

“I also suggested that the AP should pick up diplomas,” Foreman said.

Tanner, who was out of town on a school trip, called Foreman and told her to get out of his school and not request that any diplomas be returned. Foreman left the school and spoke to Anderson, who said to wait for Tanner’s return.

From then on Foreman would receive help from the district’s internal auditing department, who trained her what to look for in student transcripts.

During Tuesday’s testimony, Foreman repeatedly stated that she herself was not an auditor, did not have any auditing experience. Foreman requested documents and ran into issues at times.

“I’m not an auditor,” Foreman said. “I did the best and most I could to the best of my ability given my skills set.”

Paperwork as in disarray, records were missing dates and signatures. She would then leave the campus, and the next time she returned all the documents she needed were there.

“Sometimes it was strange, sometimes there were duplicates of documents,” Foreman said.

This process continued for several months until 108 seniors’ credits were accounted for, but Foreman added that the issue did not get resolved.

“Dr. Tanner and I didn’t agree on what happened as Anderson had instructed us to do so,” Foreman said.  “Then I wrote something and was giving it to Anderson but then he was removed. So then I tried giving it to Mr. Jose Baca, but then Mr. Baca left and Tanner was removed because of the Weaver audit. Then reinstated then removed again.” Then, Foreman added, she was terminated.

Foreman testified that she has not seen the audit since she was removed from the campus.

During cross examination by Robert Perez, Anderson’s attorney, he asked whether Lane was at times not on campus. Foreman answered that sometimes that was the case.

Testimony from Cheryl Felder, Director of Student and Parent Services at the district followed.

In her testimony Felder said she and Mark Mendoza, current head of the EPISD truancy department, looked into parent complaints in 2008. The complaints consisted of students being denied enrollment at Bowie High School and having students withdraw if disciplinary issues arose.

Felder said training was conducted at Bowie High School so that counselors and administrators could follow proper procedure. Felder had also helped Foreman with her audit of Austin High School.

Previous story HERE; All previous coverage HERE

Jury Selection for Five Former El Paso ISD Administrators Begins

After several postponements, the status hearing and jury selection for the case involving five former El Paso Independent School District administrators, connected with an alleged district-wide cheating scheme, began Monday.

Defendants Nancy Love, Dianne Thomas, Mark Philip Tegmeyer, James Anderson, and John Tanner were present with their attorneys. U.S. District Court Judge David Briones is presiding over the case, which is expected to last more than 2 weeks, with more than 200 potential witnesses according to court documents.

The former EPISD administrators are facing several charges with the scheme.  Anderson, former EPISD Associate Superintendent is facing one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States, attempt and conspiracy to commit mail fraud, and providing false statements to investigators.

Tanner, former principal at Austin High School and Tegmeyer, a former assistant principal at the same high school, are charged  with conspiracy to defraud the United States, attempt and conspiracy to commit mail fraud, frauds and swindles, and retaliating against a witness or victim.

Shortly after walking outside the federal courthouse defendant Nancy Love speaks with two individuals seeking assistance, before heading to lunch.
Shortly after walking outside the federal courthouse defendant Nancy Love speaks with two individuals seeking assistance, before heading to lunch.

Thomas and Love, former assistant principals at Austin High School are charged with retaliating against a witness or victim; and one count of retaliating against a witness or victim and false declarations before a grand jury, respectively.

All have pled not guilty.

During the status hearing, attorneys for the defendants filed a motion for a transfer of venue, and several motions to limine, or asking the court for an order to limit or prevent some evidence from being presented that could be considered irrelevant, inadmissible or prejudicial.

Briones denied a transfer of venue, overruled several motions to limine but granted a motion to limine to excluding grand jury testimony and that no reference be made to Anderson’s administrative hearings with the Texas Education Agency.

In addition, Briones had Damon Murphy redacted from several sections of the original indictment.

Murphy, former EPISD Associate Superintendent, plead guilty in January to one count of conspiracy to defraud the federal government.

According to court documents, and testimony from Texas Education Hearings on three former Bowie High School administrators in July 2016 Murphy directed the administrators to take pictures of students crossing the international bridge from Juarez, Mexico into the United States. Murphy had directed a team of truant officers to identify students who may not reside within the EPISD district.

According to court documents, Murphy pleaded guilty in January to one count of conspiracy to defraud the federal government in connection with the cheating scheme.

Murphy is expected to be sentenced in July.

Robert Perez, defense lawyer for Anderson, objected to the redaction of Murphy’s name on the indictment citing that many references to Murphy was key to his client’s defense. Love’s attorney Mary Stillinger agreed with Perez as did attorneys for Tegmeyer, Tanner and Thomas.

Briones overruled their objections, but added that they could still use the original indictment, without redactions, as reference.

After the status hearing, the jury selection began. Attorneys must select from a pool of 52 final jurors. The court had initially called for 200, but received responses from just over 100, of those 52 were selected. From the 52, a jury of 12 must be selected.

H-P Wrap: TEA Hearing on Three Former Bowie High School Administrators Ends; Wounds Remain

The Texas Education Agency Hearings against three former Bowie High School Administrators ended on Wednesday.

Former Bowie High School principal Jesus Chavez, and assistant principals Juan Manuel Duran and Anna Luisa Kell listened to testimony and responded over the course of two weeks in an effort to keep their teaching credentials.

According to the original petition the Texas Education Agency alleges Kell, Duran and Chavez of manipulating student grades, and providing state and federal agencies with falsified records.

The scheme, which had multiple educators involved within the El Paso Independent School District, lasted from 2006 to 2013.

After two weeks of testimony from former educators and students at Bowie High School, Kell, Duran and Chavez – the dust will settle for a moment and visiting administrative law judges Pratibha Shenoy and Holly Vandrovec will deliberate and come to a decision in the next few months.

Their decision may result in the loss of credentials for these three former administrators.

Duran is still currently an assistant principal at Burges High School.

First Impressions

The testimony from Bowie High School students remains with me as does the cross examination by the attorneys representing Kell and Duran.

Questions the attorneys asked the students – David Dominguez and Perla Valenzuela in particular – regarding transcripts and documents and whether they trusted them confounded me.

Let’s back up a bit shall we? Based on the testimony Valenzuela went to Bowie High School from 2008-09 and Dominguez went from 2005 to 2009. That means it’s been 7 years and a maximum of 11 years that these students attended school.

As the attorneys were presenting their case and defending their clients – they showed the students transcripts and documents from years ago that had educational jargon and fine print.

Having covered education myself, it is quite a learning curve to learn the alphabet soup of acronyms and yet another to learn what they actually mean and what they entail. As of this day I’m still learning.

So to present these students with these records they allegedly signed – and at an age when they were in high school – forgive me for saying this – but of course they aren’t going to remember or know what these documents are.

I know I know – the attorneys were only doing their job defending their clients – and I know a final judgement is still pending. (Takes a deep breath)

But it’s clear that this, while not a criminal case, is still an emotional case.

Students and their families were affected by the actions of others – the actions of those they trusted – and some students were lucky and forged a new path for themselves and became successful. Others are still trying to pick up the pieces, and still some may have given up all together.

I believe that you should do what you love, and you should use your talents. High School is a good place to practice your talents. But what happens when you’re pulled away from the resources to help you do this? What happens when the doors are shut to you because your English is a little broken?

You seek a window. And some students found one and were able to move on; others were not so lucky and were cut by the glass on their way out or found that the window was shut too.

As former Bowie English Teacher Leticia Morales said during her testimony on Tuesday sending out student wholly unprepared:

“…that determines an entire city because we are sending our student out to our society lacking the skills necessary to succeed in college.”

Previous Coverage

TEA Hearing into EPISD Cheating Scandal Continues; Attorneys end up in Confrontation

Herald-Post Reset: TEA Hearing into EPISD Cheating Scandal enters 2nd Week

TEA Hearing into EPISD Cheating Scandal Continues; Attorneys end up in Confrontation

Students were pulled out from their core classes and into tutoring or mini-mesters at Bowie High School for weeks at a time, said a former Bowie High School teacher and department chair for the English Department during the Texas Education Agency’s hearing on Tuesday.

The hearings, which began last week, are against three former Bowie High School administrators — Principal Jesus Chavez; and former Bowie High school Assistant Principals Anna Luisa Kell and Juan Manuel Duran.

The three are alleged to have manipulated student grades, and providing state and federal agencies with falsified student records.

Leticia Morales taught English at Bowie High School from the Fall of 2007 to May of 2012. During her time at Bowie the school had not performed well in the state mandated tests, or TAKS, and was classified as a stage 5 probation school by the TEA.

Morales said because the state of trouble Bowie was in with its testing, doing well on the TAKS test was “paramount.” Prior to being hired at Bowie High School, Morales had taught in the Ysleta District. She is currently a teacher at Vista Middle School in Las Cruces, New Mexico.

“I was initially hired by Maria Flores, and a committee of administrators,” Morales said. “When I was being interviewed the focus of the questions was improving TAKS scores and other measures including attendance. But one of the first questions they asked was my familiarity with the TAKS test and how my students performed on it while I was at Ysleta High School.”

Bridget Remish, attorney for TEA, asked Morales if she noticed anything unusual during her first few years at Bowie High School.

“The first year I was there the scores went up from the previous year – so the passing rate was around 71 to 73 percent,” Morales said. “For ESL kids we saw an improvement as well – it was like double and we were excited because there were 136 ESL kids. Then the next year it was somewhere along 80 percent and there was an improvement for ESL as well but we didn’t have that many ESL kids.”

One of the methods used to improved scores was the “pull out method,” Morales said.

“Some of the students were pulled out from their regular courses and they went to a tutor out in the portables,” she said. “Some of the kids were pulled out from other content areas and they were pulled out from science, social studies and other content areas.”

The tutors in English had been retired teachers, while the tutors in other core areas such as Math varied from former teachers, to college students.

During the fall semester students were taken out of their courses at various times but during the spring semester students would be out for 4 to 6 weeks at a time, Morales said.

“How would you determine a grade for these pull-outs?” Remish asked.

Morales explained that Kell, presented her with a spreadsheet and notified her that the tutors would determine the students’ grades in the class they had been pullout from.

“So the tutors in an unrelated subject would provide grades for your students?” Remish asked.

“Correct,” Morales said.

Morales said she was opposed to the pullouts because over time she noticed that several of the  students, that were supposed to be in tutoring, were out in the hallways or outside playing wall-ball. At that point Morales did her best to keep her students from going to tutoring.

“I was very strongly (opposed) to these pullouts,” Morales said. “I went to our instructional specialist and to Ms. Aragon and then directly to Dr. Chavez. I even stood in the doorway because I didn’t want them to take the kids. I remember some of the tutors had come to pick up the kids and I told them, ‘You are not taking them because you guys are just playing with the kids. You don’t have direct control of them.’”

The following day, Chavez went to pick up the students from Morales’ classroom with a security guard.

“I told him (Chavez) that these students didn’t want to go,” Morales said. “I told them I don’t want to replace grades. I want them to earn them, and he stood in the door way and said to let the students go with him.”

Morales became further concerned when she became Department Chair of the English Department during her third year at Bowie High School.

“The issues I had were with the change of classification,” she said. “I was looking at the dates very closely and I noticed that some of the students from one week to the next were classified as 10th graders and then reclassified as 9th graders.”

Over time, Morales said she noticed a trend and thought, perhaps, it was a discrepancy or a mistake.

“It was shocking but it was pretty clear – numbers speak,” Morales said. “When you look at the LEP (limited English proficient student) number and the accountability report – when the numbers go from 136 (LEP students) to 49 from one year to the next – it’s pretty clear and you begin to wonder why this is.”

Morales noticed that students were either retained as freshmen or suddenly skipped to the 11th grade.

Morales took her concerns directly to Chavez and his response to her was that it was legal.

“Well, I said, it’s unethical,” Morales said. “And he said, ‘It’s legal and central office knows.” Determined to do something, Morales documented her concerns in an email to Myrna Gamboa, former director in the EPISD Priority Schools Division, and was later called into a meeting with Kell for it. Kell was the former assistant principal for Bowie High School at the time.

“I had capitalized one word – that I was no longer going to tolerate – something to that effect but it was not harassment. I wanted to

Monica Martinez, Associate Commissioner standards and programs at the TEA testifies via video conference at the TEA's Hearing against former Bowie High School Principal Jesus Chavez, and former Bowie Assistant Principals Anna Luisa Kell and Juan Manuel Duran.
Monica Martinez, Associate Commissioner standards and programs at the TEA testifies via video conference at the TEA’s Hearing against former Bowie High School Principal Jesus Chavez, and former Bowie Assistant Principals Anna Luisa Kell and Juan Manuel Duran.

emphasize that something is wrong here. So Ms. Kell showed me the email and mentioned to me there was a district policy about harassment through email and that capitalized word was considered harassment. But I explained to her that there’s a problem with attendance being changed,” Morales said. “She then emphasized I could lose my employment if I continued to harass people through email. And she made me sign a form – it was very frustrating and I understand there is a 90 percent attendance rule – but the students could only learn if they were in class.”

Gamboa later pled guilty to conspiracy to defraud the United States in January 2015. She was sentenced to five years’ probation with a $5,000 fine for being part of the scheme to inflate test scores.

When asked how she felt about the education the student received at Bowie High School, Morales became emotional and teary-eyed.

“I taught at Del Valle and at the Ysleta high schools so that is my experience, and I also taught AP College preparation courses. I taught AP Language and composition courses so the standard by which we prepared student for the AP class – that to me was how I wanted to prepare a student in my English 3 class,” Morales said.

She added, “When I saw the level of education had deteriorated to simple TAKS preparation packets – to me that determines an entire city because we are sending our student out to our society lacking the skills necessary to succeed in college.”

Morales paused for a moment to catch her breath.

“I’m getting emotional because I personally know students – who weren’t offered the best opportunity through mini-mesters. They are now sitting in college classes, listening to their peers talk about what they studied in the 12 th grade, what they studied in junior classes and they will forever have to think to themselves, ‘I never got that opportunity.’ And ‘I don’t know who you are talking about or about Beowulf.’ They will feel cheated because of what happened with mini-mesters.”

During cross examination Kell’s attorney, Mark Berry, asked whether Morales had been a tutor and whether she was wholly opposed to accelerated courses.

Morales said she had been a tutor but wasn’t wholly opposed to accelerated courses overall but was opposed to the way it was being taught at Bowie High school through practice TAKS packets.

Early Morning Courtroom Drama

Tuesday morning’s hearing initially began with heated discussions over emails that quickly escalated during a break between attorneys Tony Conners and Stuart Baggish.

(From right to left)  TEA Attorneys Merle Dover, Bridget Remish and Stuart Baggish look over their notes during Tuesday's Hearing.
(From right to left)
TEA Attorneys Merle Dover, Bridget Remish and Stuart Baggish look over their notes during Tuesday’s Hearing.

Witnesses for the TEA who allegedly received these emails included Monica Martinez, Associate Commissioner standards and programs at the TEA; Susie Coultress, State Director of Bilingual Education/Title III/Migrant Education for the TEA; Shannon Housson, Director of the Division of Performance Reporting for TEA; and Ed.D Justin Porter, Director, Assessment for Special Populations at the TEA.

All four were unable to attend the hearing in El Paso and were instead questioned via video conference.

They were all called for their expert opinion over the facts of the case. During cross examination by Conners all confirmed that their knowledge of this certification case was based on the exhibits and documentation they received from the TEA attorneys via email.

Conners said he was upset that he had not received copies of these emails. He added that he was just learning about these emails on Tuesday.

Stuart Baggish, attorney for the TEA, stressed that the email were protected under attorney-client privileges.

In addition, Conners and Berry objected to the video conference calls stating that the delayed response made it difficult to cross examine the witnesses.

Visiting administrative law judge Pratibha Shenoy and Holly Vandrovec, ordered a 5-minute break to go over the issues at hand.

During the short break, Conners stepped out of the courtroom after stating something under his breath.

“What did you say?” Baggish asked.

Conners repeated, “Rookie Mistake,” to Baggish.

Conners then exited the courtroom, followed by Berry. Shortly thereafter Baggish left the courtroom.

Berry then reentered the courtroom and said, “Baggish just assaulted Conners. I saw the whole thing,” Berry said to those present in the courtroom. “He aggressively pushed him.”

Conners then reentered the courtroom and said he would file an assault complaint. He then sought El Paso County Sheriff’s deputies to provide security inside the courtroom.

When Shenoy and Vandrovec re-entered the courtroom Conners informed Shenoy of the incident.

“I’m going to file an assault charge against Mr. Baggish,” Conners said. “As I was standing out here to come back in he bumped into me, aggressively, and afterwards taunted in the restroom. We had a witness and I’m going to make an assault charge. We have a bailiff that will come over here because I’m a little concerned about it. And I may have made objections for my client but I shouldn’t be subjected to this kind of behavior.”

Baggish objected.

“I brushed against him – there was no aggression.”

Shenoy calmly told both attorneys that while in the courtroom there was a behavior that had to be maintained. She added that while she did not see this occur, Conners seemed to be taking the appropriate course of actions. Conners continued when Shenoy cut him short.

“I’m not going to get into the details about this,” she said. “That is not something I can do – however, while we are in the courtroom we will adhere to the proper behavior.”

The rest of the morning Conners and Berry questioned Martinez’s expertise and whether she had personnel knowledge of the Duran or Kell’s charges.

Martinez repeatedly said she did not have personal knowledge of their charges but had only received exhibits and documentation regarding Kell and Duran.

Housson, Coultress, and Porter who later testified in the afternoon, answered similarly.

Conners asked if Housson could directly point out evidence against Duran within the documentation provided to him by TEA attorneys.

Housson said he could not.

Berry repeatedly referred to the emails and asked about any additional correspondence that Coultress may have had with the TEA lawyers that had not been disclosed to Berry or Conners.

Coultress, looked puzzled throughout the entire cross examination by Berry and repeatedly responded with “I don’t know,” or “I’m not understanding you.”

The hearing continues Wednesday.

Herald-Post Reset: TEA Hearing into EPISD Cheating Scandal enters 2nd Week

Students who were encouraged or coerced into leaving Bowie High School were told they “were not Bowie material” according to testimony at Monday’s hearing against current and former El Paso Independent School District administrators.

Monday marked the sixth day of the Texas Education Agency’s hearing and the first day for this hearing that former Bowie High School students testified about their experience as victims of the 2006-2013 scheme to manipulate student data to meet state and federal accountability standards.

The three-week hearing, which began July 11, could result in sanctions or the removal of credentials for former Bowie High School Principal Jesus Chavez; and former Bowie High School Assistant principals Anna Luisa Kell and Juan Manuel Duran. Duran is currently an assistant principal at Burges High School.

David Dominguez testifies at the TEA Hearing on Monday against former EPISD Bowie High school administrators. Dominguez alleged he was kicked out of Bowie High School.
David Dominguez testifies at the TEA Hearing on Monday against former EPISD Bowie High school administrators. Dominguez alleged he was kicked out of Bowie High School.

“I feel sad,” said David Dominguez, former Bowie High School student. “Even though it’s been seven or eight years, I feel sad because that’s the school I wanted to graduate from. That’s the school I loved dearly and unfortunately I couldn’t graduate from there.”

According to the original petition the Texas Education Agency alleges Kell, Duran and Chavez of manipulating student grades, and providing state and federal agencies with falsified records.

Kell and Chavez are also accused of implementing the Bowie Plan – or encouraging and/or permitting individual teachers, counselors and staff to manipulate student records to prevent low-performing students from taking the TAKS, or state mandated test, in the 10 th grade – or that would otherwise negatively affect Bowie’s state accountability rating and/or federal AYP status. Further allegations against Duran include coercing Limited English Proficient students to withdraw from school to avoid taking the TAKS test.

Students that were affected were part of the Limited English Proficiency subpopulation or were students from Mexico.

Former student Perla Valenzuela was the first of three former Bowie High School students to testify on Monday.

Valenzuela tried to enroll in Bowie High School in August 2008 after moving to El Paso from Mexico, but was denied admittance, she said.

“They didn’t want to accept me because of my English,” Valenzuela said in Spanish. “Then they sent me to another school (Paso Del Norte) but they didn’t want to accept me there either.”

Valenzuela said she tried to enroll at Bowie High School again in November 2008 and was accepted, but placed in the ninth grade and enrolled in an English as a Second Language class.

Valenzuela said she had brought her report card from Mexico to receive credit. She admitted she didn’t speak to anyone about transferring her credits, but said she had expected it to be done.

“I had expected them to be transferred and expected to be transferred to the 11 th grade,” she said in Spanish.

Valenzuela said she completed the first year in the ninth grade and began the 2009-10 school year – but was reclassified as a ninth grader again. Valenzuela was told by her English teacher that there was an “error in the system” and she did not receive any transfer credits from Mexico during her time at Bowie High School.

Frustrated, Valenzuela dropped out of Bowie High School, moved back to Mexico – and two months later she was pregnant.

“I had hoped to be in the grade that I was supposed to be in. I was frustrated and angry because I should not have been in that grade,” Valenzuela said in Spanish. “So, I went back to Mexico.”

Valenzuela added that in February of 2016 she returned to school at El Paso Community College to receive her G.E.D.

During her time at Bowie and afterward Valenzuela said she was working for five years and had gone one year without work.

“I had trouble obtaining a job because the majority of jobs want you to be proficient in English and have a high school diploma or a GED,” she said. “I wanted to complete my education at Bowie. I feel bad because I expected to finish my studies and get ahead.”

David Dominguez, testified after Valenzuela and said that he was forced out of Bowie High School by Duran during an encounter at the cafeteria. Dominguez attended Bowie High School from 2005 to 2009.

“I was walking toward the cafeteria and he (Duran) stopped me and got in my way and he said you are no longer allowed in this school, you need to leave,” Dominguez said. “I was trying to talk but he kept pointing and kept saying ‘leave, leave leave, leave before I call the police.’ I turned away and left.” Dominguez, said he then began his 3-mile walk back home.

“I remember it was the longest walk ever.”

Dominquez admitted he had trouble getting to school on time or attending because of his work schedule.

“My mother is a single mother of eight, so I had to work from 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. at McDonald’s to help with her expenses,” Dominguez said. “So sometimes I wouldn’t make it to school.”

Dominguez said he did not have transportation to get to and from work, home or school. “So by the time I got home it was around 2 or 3 in the morning,” Dominguez said adding that he would miss the morning bus to school.

Despite the difficulties Dominguez said he tried his best to attend school, but was often tardy – and after several tardies accumulated he would receive an absent. He also added there was a policy at Bowie High School that stated if you were 5 minutes late to a class you were counted as absent. Dominguez said that he tried to recover his credits by going to then Assistant Principal Johnnie Vega.

Vega, according to the original petition by TEA was employed at Bowie High School from August 2006 to November 2012. According to the petition, during 2009 to 2012 Vega falsified and/or directed others to falsify and/or permitted others to falsify at least 127 Bowie student appeals forms and attendance records by removing no credit codes, thus enabling the students to receive credit when the student had not actually earned enough credits to advance to the next grade level.

When Dominguez tried to meet with Vega about possibly recovering his credits, Vega said no.

“When I approached Mr. Vega he said I wasn’t in his grade because he was attached to the sophomores and freshman,” Dominguez said. “But he never approached me because I was in the eleventh grade.”

After Dominguez left school in March of 2009 he attended Premier High School, where he did not complete his courses to receive a high school diploma.

During Cross Examination lawyer Tony Conners, who represents Duran, asked Dominguez if he recalled any phone calls, letters or home visits by Bowie High School personnel informing him of conferences and warnings of his possible withdrawal for not attending school.

“No,” Dominguez said.

When referred to documentation that stated Dominguez had been contacted at home via phone in January 2008 and that administrators spoke to his brother regarding Dominguez status of being an at risk student for lack of attendance.

“It couldn’t have been my brother, he was at war,” Dominguez pointed out.

Conners then asked Dominguez if his mother received a letter on April 9, 2009 in English warning her of ahis possible withdrawal would she have understood it.

“No, she only speaks Spanish.”

Overcoming Barriers

David Alvarado Aldaña attended Bowie High School from Aug. 2008. Upon entering he was classified as a ninth grader because he had previously attended a school in Juarez. He was also placed in an ESL course.

Then in 2009-2010 he was skipped to the ninth grade.

“I wasn’t aware I was a junior,” Aldaña said. “I thought I was still a sophomore.” During Aldaña’s testimony TEA lawyer Merle Dover asked whether he had taken the TAKS test, or the state mandated test.

“No,” Aldaña said.

To complete his credits, Aldaña was enrolled in mini-mesters for English 2, 3, and 4. During his mini-mesters Aldaña said all he, and other students completed TAKS practice test packets.

These were to be completed at home.

“Did you ever read or analyze a Shakespeare play?” Dover asked.

“No,” Aldaña responded.

“Did you ever write a personal statement?” Dover continued.

“No.” Aldaña said.

“Did you take a final exam?”

“No,” Aldaña said.

Dover then asked Aldaña how he felt about his education at Bowie. Aldaña said that at the time, he didn’t really feel affected by it – but knew he didn’t like it because he wanted to be taught in a regular classroom setting.

“After I found out they were manipulating grades and all that, I felt somehow – bad because I didn’t have access to that kind of information – to make me aware of what they were doing with me,” Aldaña said. “They were treating me – literally like a number or an amount of money.”

Aldaña was able to graduate from Bowie High School and was able to attend the University of Texas at El Paso where he plans to major in English.

“I want to be an English teacher and I want to teach at Bowie.”

Cross Examination

During cross examination lawyers Mark Berry and Tony Conners, representing Kell and Duran respectively, turned the former students’ attention to documents that related to TAKS test records, transcripts, and withdrawal forms.

Conners made it a point to ask each student if they recalled this information on the document, and whether they believed it to be accurate.

Initially, and prior to seeing the documents, Dominquez and Valenzuela agreed that the documents were accurate. “If it’s on the document, then I guess it’s correct,” Dominguez initially said. “I don’t have the records in front of me.”

Conners then referred to Dominguez’s failed courses due to his absences. Dominguez agreed with that information. Conners then referred to a transcript that showed Dominguez only had 5.5 credits after three years of attending Bowie High School and was still labeled as a freshman when he dropped out of Bowie High School.

Frustrated Dominguez said, “I would have to disagree with this paper because I attended summer school in between years and I know I got

Austin High School Craig Kehrwald testifies his findings regarding the 77 student transcripts found by Patricia Scott. Kehrwald said he was ordered to conduct an audit of these transcripts where he found discrepancies.
Austin High School Craig Kehrwald testifies his findings regarding the 77 student transcripts found by Patricia Scott. Kehrwald said he was ordered to conduct an audit of these transcripts where he found discrepancies.

some credits going to summer school.”

Conners further referred Dominguez to a meeting he had on Oct. 2012 with former Bowie High School Principal Lionel Rubio and Mark Mendoza, director of Pupil Services for EPISD who came to see him at his work at O’Reilly Auto Parts on S. Piedras.

“I remember speaking to Mr. Mendoza on the phone, about getting my GED, but I don’t remember him coming to my work,” Dominguez said.

When Conners questioned Mendoza, he referred to a text message that Mendoza had sent to former interim superintendent Terri Jordan regarding a student – David Dominguez.

The text message showed that Mendoza had met with Dominguez, that he had established trust and that the student indicated he wanted to return to school.

During Valenzuela’s cross examination, Berry referred to her transcripts and data that showed she enrolled on Aug. 21, 2009, withdrew that same day and re-enrolled Aug. 27, 2009; then withdrew on Nov. 19, 2009.

“Well, I’m a little confused now,” Valenzuela said. “I didn’t do all those things. I didn’t withdraw and then return, I didn’t do that.”

Valenzuela confirmed that she only withdrew on Nov. 19, 2009.

Former employees instructed to follow Bowie Model

Mark Mendoza, director of student retention and truancy prevention and Francisco Alejandro Guerrero, outreach specialist at EPISD testified that their department was targeted for assisting “bad” students return to Bowie High School.

During March 2008, Mendoza was among a team of truant officers that had been directed by former EPISD Superintendent Lorenzo Garcia and former associate superintendent Damon Murphy to take pictures of students crossing the international bridge from Juarez, Mexico into the United States.

Mendoza said he was directed to take a team of truant officers and identify students who may not reside in, within the El Paso Independent School District.

“That was the stated reason for the mission,” Mendoza said.

After obtaining the results, Mendoza later perceived that the reason he was directed to do this was to “get rid of bad kids.”

Mark Mendoza, director of student retention and truancy at EPISD, testifies how his department, Pupil Services, was seen as unsupportive of the Bowie model.
Mark Mendoza, director of student retention and truancy at EPISD, testifies how his department, Pupil Services, was seen as unsupportive of the Bowie model.

“I didn’t have anything to do with getting rid of any student within the EPISD,” Mendoza stressed.

Dover asked Mendoza to clarify what he meant by a “bad kid.”

“According to what I was told, a bad kid is a student who speaks Spanish; a student who many not come to school on a regular basis; a student who may not live within the school boundary; a student who has disciplinary issues; a student who has academic issues,” Mendoza said.

Both Mendoza and Guerrero indicated that their job was to find students that had dropped, and convince them to go back to school. Mendoza added that it was their job to go door to door to identify these students.

But this model was later seen as unsupportive, by Bowie High School administrators Mendoza and Guerrero said.

During the 2009-10 school year Guerrero said he was assigned as the outreach specialist at Bowie High School, but was removed in March of 2010 after he overheard a conversation between Duran, Chavez and a student and a parent.

“I happened to hear a conversation between Mr. Duran, a parent and a student. Mr. Duran had told the parent, ‘You need to remove’ the student from Bowie High School or we will take you to court and charge you $1,000 each – to the parent and to the student. Then Dr. Chavez entered Mr. Duran’s office and confirmed the information.”

Guerrero then said he heard Duran tell the parents, “Take him back to Mexico.”

In light of this conversation Guerrero contacted Mendoza, who said he would handle the situation. Within hours Guerrero received a response from Mendoza – he was to be reassigned to Guillen Middle School.

“The principal at the time, Dr. Chavez, didn’t want me there anymore and didn’t trust me being there anymore,” Guerrero said. “I believe that Dr. Chavez didn’t trust me because I was bringing back kids that he wanted out – and I had several occasions where I brought back students and he told me directly that he didn’t want them there.”

Guerrero said that Chavez did not want students with bad attendance and that could bring down grades.

During his time at Bowie, Guerrero said he noticed a pattern.

“Most of the students targeted were students with bad attendance, students whose parents that were not aware or knowledgeable of the policies district wide. These were parents that were pressured to withdraw their students.”

When asked how these students and parents were pressured into withdrawing, Guerrero said Bowie High School assistant principals would meet with the student, and then the principal – during those meetings the parents and the students were told that they would be taken to court and fined up to $1,000 if they did not withdraw.

“If these students were removed, grades and testing would go up.”

During the 2008-2010 school years Mendoza, who was director of pupil services at the time, was in charge of enrollment and withdrawal. It was their job, Mendoza said, to bring the students that had left back to school. Some students had been classified as an unknown reason or were dropped because they had been classified as returned back to their home country.

“Students that had attempted to enroll but were turned down at Bowie High School were brought to my attention as well.”

Mendoza added that these students did not leave of their own accord.

“In many cases they (students) said they were lined up, had a conference with the AP and the principals said they were not, ‘Bowie material.’” Mendoza said. “These students were lined up, they were told they were the reason Bowie was in trouble and they were encouraged to drop from the campus.”

Mendoza said he also noticed a pattern regarding the student drop outs at Bowie.

“They didn’t speak English or did not speak it very well,” he said. “They were between 17 and 19 years old and they were at risk as far as graduation and at risk as far as test taking on the standardized examinations.”

Time and time again, Mendoza said he was met with difficulties when he would try to reenroll the students at Bowie High School.

In January of 2010 there was a meeting with Kell.

Anna Luisa Kell, former Assistant Principal at Bowie High School looks over documents at the TEA hearing.
Anna Luisa Kell, former Assistant Principal at Bowie High School looks over documents at the TEA hearing.

“She said we were not being supportive and diverting resources from kids that deserved the education and really wanted to be there,” Mendoza said.

Then finally there was a conference meeting organized by Dr. Chavez and facilitated by James Anderson for being non-supportive of the Bowie model.

“I was presented with a laundry list for the lack of support for this model of not wanting to serve kids,” Mendoza said. Dover then asked Mendoza if there was any reason these cases were not reported by the parents.

“Yes, this population has a high rate of parents and even students who may be undocumented,” Mendoza said. “And parents who may be afraid of being exposed. And they believe the authority of the principal is to be final – and they would not have the capacity or the desire to question what this ultimate authority was telling them.”

The hearing ended with testimony from Austin High School Principal Craig Kehrwald, whom during the 2008-09 school year was asked to conduct an audit on 77 student transcripts originally found by Patricia Scott.

Kehrwald said he was instructed to do so by interim Superintendent Terri Jordan. In doing so he and had confirmed there had been some discrepancies.

The hearing continues today.

EPISD Cheating Scheme Update: Former Administrators Plead Guilty

Two former El Paso Independent School District administrators appeared before U.S. District Court Judge David Briones and entered a guilty plea for their part in a scheme to manipulate student data in an effort to rig the federal accountability system.

Vanessa Foreman, 48, and Maria Flores, 61,former Priority Schools Division directors, appeared before Briones today, and both agreed to waive their rights to a trial by jury; they right to remain silent and their right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty.

Foreman and Flores are each charged with one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States. They are scheduled for a sentence hearing on Sept. 28 at 10:30 a.m.

Prior to appearing before Briones, Flores and Foreman consulted with their attorneys. Foreman, who wore thin silver hoop earrings, a black long sleeved sweater and brown pants, came in with her family members who sat in the back of the court room.

Flores, who wore a navy sweater over a grey blouse and navy pants, looked concerned before court was in session. Both consulted with their attorneys beforehand.

At 10:30 a.m., Foreman and Flores appeared before Judge Briones with their attorneys, Rebecca R Reyes and Omar Carmona, respectfully, by their side.

Briones informed Flores and Foreman that before accepting their plea of guilty he had to ask them some questions to insure that they were competent and had not been coerced into admitting their guilty plea to the court. Neither had been indicted.

As the charge and waiver of rights were read, Foreman and Flores simply responded with “Yes” or “Yes, your honor.”

Prosecuting this case for the state was U.S. Attorney Robert Almonte who read the facts of the case aloud. As the facts of the case were read Foreman and Flores stood stoically.

According to the court documents from 2007 to 2008 Flores was at Bowie High School, which did not meet federal accountability standards that year.

The document further states that Flores and Foreman conspired with each other and other employees of EPISD to create “the appearance that an EPISD campus had legitimately met the graduation rate,” and met federal accountability standards in conjunction with the No Child Left Behind act.

Foreman and Flores further conspired with others “to make sure the campus(es) get out of AYP jail,” the documents state.

Flores had approved the use of mini-mesters for students at Bowie High School to obtain course credit. In the Spring of 2011 school Flores directed every applicable EPISD campus, three students who had been applicable to take the modified TAKS test under the SPED, or special education subgroups, to take the regular TAKS test.

This was to avoid federal accountability standards and make it appear as though the district had less than 50 students that were SPED or part of another subgroup.

As previously reported Schools were regularly tested through a standardized test, and from 2007 to 2011, the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills test, was the standardized test students in the 10th grade were required to take to evaluate their progress in reading, writing, social studies, math and science.

The Department of Education also takes into account students that are labeled as “subgroups” or students that were “special needs, Limited English Proficient, Special Education,= economically disadvantaged; Hispanic and African-American.

If 50 or more students at each campus were classified in these subgroups, the district is required to report them for accountability purposes. However, if a subgroup at a campus fell below 50 students, then that subgroup is not taken into account and the campus has a greater chance of meeting federal accountability standards through the standardized test.

Almonte added that Flores kept a list of all LEP students to make sure that LEP students never saw the 10th grade, and thereby avoided taking the TAKS test and skirted federal accountability standards.

After Almonte had finished reading the facts of the case relevant to Flores, Briones asked if Flores understood the charges she was pleading to. Flores, took a deep breath and nodded before she began to cry.

Her attorney, Omar Carmona comforted her by placing his hand on her shoulder. Flores then began to slowly shake her head as she tried to regain composure.

Foreman turned to Flores sympathetically – and then back to her attorney, Rebecca R. Reyes, who reassured her client by patting her back.

“May we have a moment your honor?” Carmona requested for Flores. Briones granted it and Flores used a tissue to wipe her tears away.

The court waited for a moment, and Flores took a deep breath and was able to let out a stifled, “Yes.”

Almonte continued and read the charges against Foreman who was able to keep her composure, and only moved to brush a few stray hairs away from her face.

According to the documents Foreman’s role in the conspiracy was directing a Jefferson High School administrator, on or around Sept. 5, 2010, to conduct an audit that would reclassify students and keep LEP students out of the 10th grade.

Around April 11, 2011 Foreman instructed Jefferson High School personnel to administer mini-mesters to students who attended summer school so they could receive credit prior to graduation.

The allowance of mini-mesters does not meet the state requirements for mastery of the subject matter. Almonte said that Foreman told the Assistant Principals of Jefferson High School that students who had been kept in the 9th grade and who took the mini-mesters prior to October would then be classified as 11th graders – avoiding federal accountability standards.

In addition, Almonte further read that Foreman had in fact conspired with Lorenzo Garcia and Damon Murphy and others to artificially inflate federal accountability scores to make it seem as though EPISD was meeting the state mandated standards.

After Almonte finished reading the facts of the case that related to Foreman, Briones asked if she understood and agreed to the facts as presented.

Foreman nodded and responded with, “Yes.”

The sentence each could receive on their count of conspiracy to defraud the United States is 0 to 5 years in prison; with up to $250 in fines; $100 to the victims; and supervised release of 0 to 3 years.

Briones added that the amount of restitution Flores or Foreman would be ordered to pay would be determined by the probation office.

With the signed waiver of their rights, Briones stated they could in fact receive a harsher sentence and their plea of guilty could not be withdrawn.

In addition, Flores’ plea agreement recommended a sentence of probation to be considered. Briones stated that this agreement was non-binding and he did not have to agree to it.

“If you fully comply and render assistance to the government and testify in court the government then will determine if your assistance is substantial enough to decrease your sentence,” Briones said to both Flores and Foreman.

Neither Flores or Foreman responded to questions from the media as they left the courtroom.

“My client has accepted full responsibility,” Carmona said on behalf of Flores.

Foreman and her family waited for the media to leave the 7th floor of the Federal Courthouse and then looked out the windows to see where media cameras were stationed.

When Foreman, her family and Reyes finally exited, Foreman and a young boy that was with her, covered their faces from the cameras with red and blue parasols.

As the media followed them seeking comment, Reyes simply said, “No comment,” on behalf of her client. Foreman and the boy drew the parasols closer to their faces.

Foreman and Flores are the third and fourth former EPISD administrators who pled guilty this year for their roles in the cheating scandal that rocked the district.

Myrna Gamboa, a former priority schools administrator, pled guilty in January; and former district superintendent Lorenzo Garcia pled guilty guilty on June 4, 2012.

Gamboa was sentenced to 5 years of supervised probations and a $5,000 fine.

Garcia was sentenced to 3 1/2 years in federal prison. His sentence was later reduced to 2 1/2 years for good behavior and completion of the Bureau of Prisons drug and rehabilitation program.

Additional former administrators of EPISD have been arrested this year as well.

On April 20 six former EPISD administrators were indicted and arrested for their part in the scheme. They were: Damon Murphy, 50, Former EPISD Associate Superintendent; John Tanner, 52, former Austin High School Prinicipal; Mark Philip Tegmeyer, 51, former AssistantPrincipal at Austin High School; Diane Thomas, 53, former Austin High School Assistant Principal; and Nancy Love, 48, former Austin High School Assistant Principal.

All pled not guilty.

According to the latest court documents the trial for all five has been set for Aug. 15 in Judge Briones’ courtroom.

Murphy has requested for a change of venue stating that the media attention this case has attracted would not give him a fair trial.

For more information and a fuller history of this ongoing scandal read the El Paso Herald Post Reset: A Look at El Paso ISD Cheating Scheme, Arrests, and Details.

Herald-Post Reset: A look at El Paso ISD Cheating Scheme, Arrests, and Details

A cheating scheme to manipulate student grades in an effort to rig the federal accountability system through standardized tests at the El Paso Independent School District continues to unravel more than 5 years after the arrest of Lorenzo Garcia, the former superintendent.

Just last week, federal agents arrested six former El Paso Independent School District administrators for their alleged roles in the scheme.

Then on the following Tuesday, former Austin High School assistant principal, James Anderson was arrested after he surrendered to federal agents.

Anderson, along with five others, were indicted in a scheme to defraud the U.S. Department of Education by manipulating grades and federal student accountability scores announced Attorney Richard L. Durbing Jr., and FBI Special Agent in Charge Douglas E. Lindquist and U.S. Department of Education Inspector General Kathleen S. Tighe.

Anderson was booked into the El Paso County Jail on Monday and remains in detained as of Wednesday.

Anderson was the only alleged co-conspirator that was not allowed release on bond.

Anderson, a former Assistant Superintendent of Secondary Schools Division, is the sixth former EPISD administrator indicted this week for his involvement in a cheating scheme that led the manipulation of grades to keep the district in compliance of No Child Left Behind.

According to the FBI, five other former EPISD administrators were arrested in their involvement on April 27 for their roles in the scheme.

They were Damon Murphy, 50, Former EPISD Associate Superintendent; John Tanner, 52, former Austin High School Prinicipal; Mark Philip Tegmeyer, 51, former Assistant Principal at Austin High School; Diane Thomas, 53, former Austin High School Assistant Principal; and Nancy Love, 48, former Austin High School Assistant Principal.

All five were arrested on bond; and all plead not guilty.

Thomas was released on a $20,000 bond; Murphy, Tanner, Tegmeyer and Love were released on a $30,000 bond according to the U.S. District Court’s orders.

On Monday, Murphy, Tegmeyer, Love, Thomas and Tanner were scheduled to appear for their arraignment in Judge Torres U.S. Federal Courtroom. But all five elected to waive their appearance. Other co-conspirators were also included in the indictment but were not named.

Almonte, the prosecuting attorney for this case; and James Darnell, defense attorney for Tanner did not want to comment further on the case or the arraignment hearing. But said the next step is a Docket Call, scheduled for 9:30 a.m., on May 26.

Darren Ligon; Luis E. Islas; Mary Stillinger; and Sherilyn Ann Bunn, defense attorneys for Murphy, Tegmeyer, Love and Thomas could not be reached for comment on Monday.

The Allegations

According to the indictments a grand jury charged Murphy, Tanner and Tegmeyer with one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud; one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States; and one substantive count of mail fraud.

Tanner, Tegmeyer, Thomas and Love with one count of conspiracy to retaliate against a witness. Love was additionally charged with one count of making a false declaration before a grand jury.

Of the six only Tegmeyer and Love were still employed by the districts. Tegmeyer, was recently working for the Clint Independent School District. He was employed at Clint ISD from August 2014 and became an assistant principal at Horizon Middle School in January. Love was recently an assistant principal for EPISD’s Silva Health Magnet.

Both have been placed on paid leave by their respective districts, pending the ongoing investigation according to district officials.

Clint ISD released a statement to the El Paso Herald-Post on Monday:

“On April 22, 2016, the Clint Independent School District (“District”) became aware that current District Administrator, Mark Tegmeyer, was indicted. The specifics of Mr. Tegmeyer’s indictment are unknown to the District at this time.  However, the District can confirm that none of the alleged actions given rise to Mr. Tegmeyer’s indictment occurred while he has been employed by the District. If the District needs to cooperate with any criminal investigation, any and all information requested will be provided to the law enforcement authorities.  At this time, Mr. Tegmeyer has been placed on administrative leave with pay pending the disposition of the criminal charges against him. Mr. Tegmeyer was placed on Administrative leave on Monday, April 25th.”

History

According to the indictment, during the end of the 2005-2006 school year the district’s Superintendent, Lorenzo Garcia, created a Priority Schools Division, “to address the needs at 15 EPISD campuses which were either academically unacceptable or did not meet AYP for two consecutive years, and at an additional seven campuses which were labeled borderline by NCLB ‘accountability,’ standards and needed serious intervention.”

The No Child Left Behind Act, as stated in the indictment, was enacted in 2001 in an push to ensure all students had an equal opportunity to be proficient in their academic achievement.

Federal funds are tied to the NCLB, and schools with students who were considered disadvantaged – or to come from low-income families, were provided with federal funding to assist them in achieving certain academic goals and standards.

In order to measure each schools and students progress an Adequate Yearly Progress was checked based on reading/language arts, math, attendance and graduation rates.

Schools that met AYP standards were rewarded with bonuses and/or recognition; and schools that missed AYP standards were to take corrective action through the implementation of new curriculum, replacing personnel or removing specific schools from the district’s jurisdiction.

As a result of the district’s need for an intervention, Garcia created the Priority Schools Division. Five of EPISD High Schools were designated as Priority Schools.

Garcia, the indictment continues, created the position of Associate Superintendent to oversee this division. Garcia also created six positions for campus directors to supervise the priority schools.

While the indictment does not state which schools were labeled as Priority Schools – an investigative report by Weaver and Tidwell, an Austin-based forensic accounting firm, refer to Austin, Irvin, Bowie, El Paso and Burges High Schools.

The investigation by Weaver and Tidwell was conducted in 2012 after the Texas Education Agency ordered the district to conduct an investigation. The Weaver Audit was released in April 2013.

Accountability

Schools were regularly tested through a standardized test, and from 2007 to 2011, the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills test, was the standardized test students in the 10th grade were required to take to evaluate their progress in reading, writing, social studies, math and science.

The Department of Education also takes into account students that are labeled as “subgroups” or students that were “special needs, Limited English Proficient, Special Education, economically disadvantaged; Hispanic and African-American.

If 50 or more students at each campus were classified in these subgroups, the district is required to report them for accountability purposes. However, if a subgroup at a campus fell below 50 students, then that subgroup is not taken into account and the campus has a greater chance of meeting federal accountability standards through the standardized test.

In a scheme to meet AYP standards, district administrators finagled the data and created a policy that retained transfer students from Mexico and other countries in the 9th grade, despite the number of credits they had on their transcript. At the completion of the school year, students that had been detained in the ninth grade were then skipped the 11th grade – thereby avoiding the standardized test.

Murphy implemented, what was known as the EPISD strategy of withholding credits, in July 2008, according to the indictment.

In addition, the indictment states that Murphy “repeatedly gave high school principals marching orders to put up barriers to prevent students in the LEP (Limited English Proficient) subgroup from going onto the tenth grade.”

Murphy along with another unnamed co-conspirator, told administrators to withhold any information from parents regarding their child’s retained progress in the ninth grade.

“When speaking with parents, please do not tell them that if their students pass fall semester classes, they can petition to move to 10th grade at Christmas. This is against policy – they will remain 9th graders through May 2009 regardless of credit performance during this school year…”

Students in the targeted subgroups that were skipped to the 11th grade after completing their retained year in the 9th grade were rewarded the credits through “credit recovery” methods on record. Credit recovery methods included the creation of “mini-mesters.”

Tanner’s role in the scheme, according to the indictment, indicates that he directed an Austin High School administer to change attendance records of students who had been marked absent so that it marked them as present.

During the 2009-2010 school year – Tanner, along with Mark Tegmeyer interviewed students who had been marked absent by their teacher in an effort to change their attendance records.

In this same school year – Tanner caused about 11,000 fraudulent entries, including 2,756 changes to the records of 247 students in the 2009-10 graduating class of 289 students.

The fraudulent entries continued through 2012 according to the indictment: From July 25, 2011 through July 28, 2011 Tanner approved 636 credit recovery forms; thereby restoring credits lost by those students. In June 2012, Tanner removed 418 “no credit” codes from the records of students at Austin High School to restore credits that counted for graduation.

Tegmeyer assisted Tanner in the Spring of 2010 and Fall of 2011 by instructing an Austin High School employee to drop students without the parents’ knowledge or consent.

Retaliation

Throughout the scheme it would be unjust to say that employees of Austin High School did not speak up. On the contrary, according to the indictment on Aug. 28, 2012 two unnamed teachers provided information to the FBI.

As a result – Diane Thomas instructed employees to “fudge” student attendance numbers in certain courses to make it appear as if there was zero projected student enrollment in classes taught by these two teachers. The order was given in January 2013, the indictment states.

Further retaliation came from Tanner who directed counselors to remove students from one of the instructor’s courses because a needs assessment indicated, “positions at Austin high School had to be cut.”

In August 2013, Nancy Love, the former Austin High School Assistant Principal, an Tegmeyer conspired with a recent Austin High School graduate against the other instructor who had provided information to the FBI.

Tegmeyer instructed the graduate to press criminal charges against the teacher concerning an incident that occurred in 2011.

Love and Tegmeyer had coached the student to lie to EPISD police regarding his previous declination of charges against the instructor, the indictment states.

Former Superintendent Lorenzo Garcia

Garcia was hired by the district in December 2005, but he did not begin his leadership at the district until February of 2006. Shortly after taking the helm, he sought to raise the scores of the district through this etched scheme.

Garcia was arrested by the FBI and charged in August 2011 for steering a $450,000 no-bid contract to his mistress and inflating student grade scores in an effort to cheat federal accountability measures.

In November 2011, Garcia resigns as superintendent from the district.

Garcia’s arrest, resignation and revelation of the scheme caused mistrust within the community, the district and the Texas Education Agency to question members of the school board; and Commissioner of Education, Michael Williams, appointed a state monitor, Judy Castleberry, to oversee the actions of the board as the investigation continued in 2012.

Later, that same year Williams strips the board of their power and promotes Castleberry to the role of state conservator.

Garcia was initially sentenced to 3 ½ years in a federal prison after he plead guilty to two counts of fraud. But his sentence was shorted to 2 ½ years after he participated in a drug counseling program.

It is important to note: Through the work of former Senator Eliot Shapleigh, D-El Paso, administrators, teachers students who came forward, and former El Paso Times reporter Zahira Torres and colleagues, the scheme was investigated and reported to the public. In 2012 the El Paso Times was able to obtain documents regarding the scheme through the Texas Public Information Act.

The El Paso Times led the coverage of the scheme as it continued to unravel throughout the years and – as reported by the El Paso Times – findings at the Ysleta, San Elizario, Canutillo, and Socorro Independent School Districts indicated that similar grade retention and grade skipping practices were enacted; or anomalies in student data was found as well after each of these districts had conducted their own external and/or internal audits.

While Garcia has already served his time, and released in October 2014, the charges in the indictment and the Weaver Audit indicate that the scheme he enacted during his reign at the district remained in practice through 2013.

Other arrests in the EPISD scheme, according to El Paso Times archives include Myrna Gamboa, former director in EPISD’s Priority Schools Division; and Terri Jordan, former interim superintendent at EPISD who took leadership of the district after Garcia resigned.

Possible Sentences:

Damon Murphy

John Tanner

Mark Philip Tegmeyer

Nancy Love

Diane Thomas

Could Face up to:

* 5 years in federal prison upon conviction of conspiracy to defraud the Government.

* 20 years in federal prison upon conviction of conspiracy to commit mail fraud.

* 20 years in federal prison upon conviction of mail fraud; up to ten years in federal prison for conspiracy to retaliate against a witness.

*5 years in federal prison for false declaration before a Grand Jury. *5 years in federal prison for making a false statement to a federal agent.

James Anderson

* 5 years in federal prison upon conviction of conspiracy to defraud the Government

* 20 years in federal prison upon conviction of conspiracy to commit mail fraud;

* 20 years in federal prison upon conviction of mail fraud;

* 5 years in federal prison for making a false statement to a federal agent.

Source – United States Department of Justice, U.S. Attorney’s Office, Western District of Texas.

5 Former El Paso ISD Educators Allegedly Involved in Cheating Scheme in Court Today

Five former El Paso ISD administrators and educators, taken into custody last week over their alleged involvement in a cheating scheme, are scheduled to appear in Federal Court Monday Afternoon.

According to the Federal Court docket, 50-year old former EPISD Associate Superintendent Damon Murphy, 52-year-old former Austin High School (AHS) Principal John Tanner, 51-year-old former AHS Assistant Principal Mark Phillip Tegmeyer, 53-year-old former AHS Assistant Principal Diane Thomas, and 48-year-old former AHS Assistant Principal Nancy Love will appear at 1:30 Monday afternoon Magistrate Judge Miguel A. Torres’ courtroom.

Last week, a  federal Grand Jury indicted Murphy,  as well as Tanner and Tegmeyer with one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States; one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud; and, one substantive count of mail fraud.

The indictment also charges Tanner, Tegmeyer, Thomas, and Love with one count of conspiracy to retaliate against a witness.

The indictment also charges Love with one count of making a false declaration before a Grand Jury.

Also Monday morning, 40–year-old James Anderson, former El Paso Independent School District (EPISD) Assistant Superintendent-Secondary Schools Division, surrendered to federal agents after being indicted in a scheme to defraud the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) by artificially inflating state and federal student accountability scores announced United States Attorney Richard L. Durbin, Jr., Federal Bureau of Investigation Special Agent in Charge Douglas E. Lindquist, El Paso Division; and, U.S. Department of Education Inspector General Kathleen S. Tighe.

The federal grand jury indictment, unsealed Monday as to Anderson and last week as to his five co-defendants, charges him with one count each of conspiracy to defraud the United States; conspiracy to commit mail fraud; mail fraud; and, making a false statement to a federal investigator.

The indictment alleges a scheme on the part of the defendants between February 2006 to September 2013 to violate the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) portion of the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) in order to keep EPISD compliant with program requirements.

According to the indictment, announced last week by United States Attorney Richard L. Durbin, Jr., Federal Bureau of Investigation Special Agent in Charge Douglas E. Lindquist, El Paso Division; and, U.S. Department of Education Inspector General Kathleen S. Tighe.

The five were allegedly involved in a scheme to defraud the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) by artificially inflating state and federal student accountability scores and  federal student performance accountability measure(s) including Federal Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) standards for accountability are mandated by the ESEA.

The indictment alleges that fraudulent misrepresentations regarding EPISD’s AYP were submitted to the Texas Education Agency and the DOE in order to make it appear as though EPISD was meeting and exceeding AYP standards.

According to the indictment, in the 2008/2009 school year, Murphy allegedly gave high school principals, including Tanner, “marching orders” to “put up barriers” to prevent 9 th grade Limited English Proficiency (LEP) students and others who they perceived would perform poorly on the TAKS test from going on to the 10 th grade.

Later, Murphy and others implemented a plan using partial course credits for the 10 th grade to reclassify and promote those held-back students to the 11 th grade thereby circumventing all mandated testing/accountability procedures including the 10 th grade TAKS test.

The indictment also alleges that throughout the 2009-2010 school year, Tanner, assisted by Tegmeyer, directed an AHS administrator to change previously properly marked absences of students to make it appear as if the student were present on days designated by the State to measure attendance rates.

Tanner’s action resulted in approximately 11,000 fraudulent entries regarding absences of AHS students. The indictment further alleges that in the 2010/2011 school year, Tegmeyer instructed an AHS employee to withdraw students from the school without the students’ parents’ consent or notification to benefit EPISD’s compliance requirements.

The indictment also alleges that Tanner, Tegmeyer, Thomas and Love conspired with each other to harm the personal and professional reputations of two EPISD teachers for providing truthful information to FBI agents. The alleged purposes of their scheme included the termination of both teachers’ EPISD employment as well as any future employment; and, coaching a former student into falsely pressing criminal charges against one of the instructors.

Love is alleged to have made a false statement during a Grand Jury proceeding on September 26, 2013. According to the indictment, Love told the grand jury that the former student sought her out for advice and help with pressing charges against the teacher, when in fact, it was Love who approached a relative of the former student to make contact and convince the student to press charges against the teacher.

“This indictment makes serious allegations that school officials manipulated and falsified crucial information about students to evade and defeat federal education standards. It is of the greatest importance to the community that these officials be called to account in order to maintain public confidence in the education system,” stated United States Attorney Richard L. Durbin, Jr.

All were released on bond pending trial.

The defendants face up to five years in federal prison upon conviction of conspiracy to defraud the Government; up to 20 years in federal prison upon conviction of conspiracy to commit mail fraud; up to 20 years in federal prison upon conviction of mail fraud; up to ten years in federal prison for conspiracy to retaliate against a witness; up to five years in federal prison for false declaration before a Grand Jury; and, up to five years in federal prison for making a false statement to a federal agent.

“These newly charged EPISD administrators engaged in criminal conduct and brazen efforts to manipulate testing populations, graduation rates, and attendance figures. The message should be loud and clear that the FBI, American people, and citizens of El Paso will not tolerate the manipulation and corruption of our public educational system,” stated FBI Special Agent in Charge Douglas E. Lindquist, El Paso Division.

“The involved teachers and administrators were trusted with educating and looking out for the best interests of students, as opposed to spending countless hours scheming and devising ways to defraud educational standards.”

“These educators have been indicted for cheating the most innocent of victims – El Paso school children — as well as America’s taxpayers whose hard earned dollars fund vital education programs,” said Neil Sanchez, Special Agent in Charge of the U.S. Department of Education Office of Inspector General’s South Central Regional Office.

“As the office responsible for identifying waste, fraud, and abuse involving Department of Education funds and programs, ensuring that those who abuse these funds or game the system for their own selfish purposes are stopped and held accountable for their criminal actions is a big part of our mission.”

This ongoing investigation is being conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Education Office of Inspector General. Assistant United States Attorneys Debra Kanof and Robert Almonte are prosecuting this case on behalf of the Government.

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