RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Three former George W. Carver Elementary School teachers are suing Richmond Public Schools Superintendent Jason Kamras, the Richmond School Board and Richmond Public Schools, after an SOL cheating scandal that came out last year.
Betty Alexis, Stephanie Burgess and Chireda Cotman are all suing for defamation and violation of their right to due process. Alexis and Cotman are also suing for malicious prosecution.
In June 2018, RPS Superintendent Jason Kamras informed Carver parents that students would have to retake Standards of Learning tests after potential testing irregularities were found. In late July, the Virginia Department of Education released a scathing report, suggesting teachers gave inappropriate help and cheated to help students pass their May 2018 SOLs.
The VDOE report includes excerpts from students, who mention teachers by name.
According to the report, one student said, “If I get stuck, I ask Ms. Alexis what does it mean. She gives me examples. Sometimes she helps me decide which paragraph to read. After I answered the question, she asked me ‘Did it say they did that?’ She tells me to go back to check to see.”
Another student said, “Ms. Cotman would check your work. If I got it right, she said to go to the next one.” Another said, “I was stuck on one, and Ms. Burgess showed me how to do it.
Alexis, Burgess and Cotman claim Kamras and the school system did not conduct their own investigation into the VDOE report. The lawsuit says they never talked to or questioned Alexis, Burgess, Cotman or the students about what was in the report, in order to confirm or corroborate it.
Kamras issued a statement after the report came out:
“The report is deeply troubling. It presents abundant evidence of what amounts to cheating by a small group of adults on the SOL examinations for the past several years at Carver. To be clear: our students did nothing wrong; they merely followed the instructions of the adults responsible for them.
To safeguard the integrity of our testing processes across the division, I have asked Dr. Tracy Epp, our Chief Academic Officer, to convene a working group of teachers and principals to provide recommendations about both policy and practice in time for the Spring 2019 SOL testing.
I’m under no illusion that doing so will be easy. It’s going to require us to confront biases and stereotypes head-on; to provide more and better support to our students and teachers alike; to be bold and innovative; to fiercely advocate for more resources; and to be unrelenting in the face of challenges ahead.
Every one of our students, from every single neighborhood and every single family, has the capacity for greatness. It is our collective responsibility to create the conditions that will allow that greatness to shine. And that is exactly what we will do.” — Jason Kamras
All three teachers maintain that they did not provide any inappropriate assistance or answers, or help students cheat on the tests.
Alexis was a compliance coordinator at Carver and said she had been working for the school system for 17 years at the time of her “forced resignation,” according to the lawsuit. She served as a proctor for May 2018 SOL testing. Cotman was a reading specialist who had been with Carver for 7 years and had also served as a proctor. Burgess was a teacher and says she did not participate in May 2018 SOL testing.
Alexis and Cotman both say amid pressure after Kamras’ public statements following the report, she felt she had no choice but to resign.
In the lawsuits, Alexis and Cotman both say Kamras tried to get their teaching licenses revoked, and that they successfully fought back, but both women have been unable to get another job in public education after the scandal.
Burgess had a “warning letter” placed in her RPS personnel file and was reassigned to G.H. Reid Elementary School. In her lawsuit, Burgess says this amounts to a demotion to a position “much more demanding than the position she had previously held at Carver.” She says she has suffered emotional and mental distress and public shame.
All three women have the same attorney. All three are asking for $2,350,000 in damages, as well as attorney’s fees and other fees. They are all asking for a jury trial.
Richmond Public Schools said it cannot comment on pending legal action.