It’s been a rough time for the El Paso Independent School District. On Monday, an ongoing cheating scandal that has dogged the school district for years came to a head after the Texas Education Agency placed the El Paso ISD’s accreditation on probation.
In addition to lowering the district’s accreditation status, the TEA is requiring EPISD to hire outside advisers to overhaul the school system that allowed the corruption. Furthermore, the agency has assigned a monitor, Judy Castleberry from San Antonio’s Region 20 Education Service Center, to oversee the school board and administration’s compliance with any recommended or required changes.
In a scathing letter addressing the scandal, Richard Todd Webster, the Texas Education Agency’s chief deputy commissioner, reprimanded the district for its “intentional, unethical and illegal acts” that demonstrated “utter disregard for the needs of students.”
In response, the school district issued a statement blaming former superintendent Lorenzo García for the cheating, and did not indicate that it would appeal the agency’s sanction. “The district will do everything possible to make the improvements necessary and welcomes TEA’s help,” interim El Paso Superintendent Terri Jordan said in the statement.
Last June, García pleaded guilty to defrauding the Texas Education Agency and the U.S. Department of Education by adjusting students’ test scores to receive federal funding. He also pleaded guilty to offering a no-bid, $450,000 contract to his mistress.
According to Zahira Torres at the El Paso Times, the scandal involved fudging the number of sophomores by bumping some students up to eleventh grade and holding others back in ninth. (Federal educational goals are based on sophomore-level assessment tests as well as graduation levels.)
Vasquez Heilig, an assistant professor of educational policy and planning at the University of Texas at Austin, told Torres that these tactics are similar to those used by corporations trying to protect their bottom line. “Just like corporations want to get rid of their risky assets — mortgages that they know are problematic — they want to get them off their books, schools are doing exactly the same thing,” Heilig said.
The El Paso Times editorial board commended the TEA for “finally” taking action in regards to the cheating case, as the “enfeebled” school board and the “complicit” senior administration under Garcia were unable to take proper measures.
The editorial board also renewed the call they made back in June for the resignation of “the five EPISD trustees in office while García was running his schemes,” as well as the resignations of Interim Superintendent Terri Jordan and Assistant Superintendent James Anderson. “How can they look students and teachers in the eye after their failures have been so thoroughly documented?”