Atlanta Public Schools has grounds to fire teacher Olivia Harris for possessing unauthorized copies of state exams and giving them to teachers, a panel of educators ruled Tuesday.
The Peyton Forest Elementary teacher was accused of using a 2008 copy of Georgia's Criterion-Referenced Competency Test to prepare her students for the 2009 exam, a claim she denies. APS doesn't want to renew Harris' contract but first needed the panel's approval because of state job protection laws.
The Atlanta school board will have to vote on the tribunal's recommendation before it is final.
Harris is one of about 180 educators accused of cheating by a state investigative report released last year. In the report, she's accused of having a copy of the secured exam and sharing it with other teachers. A former Peyton Forest teacher testified that Harris gave her a copy of that exam and that Harris also had materials from a 2005 state test.
That teacher, Cynthia James, provided both documents to investigators, but Harris's attorney, Warren Fortson, said the district couldn't prove the documents came from his client. Harris consistently has denied she possessed the test or committed any other testing violations.
"You can believe one of them, or you can believe the other," Fortson told the panel.
Last month, APS reinstated eight teachers from Peyton Forest because the district said there was not enough evidence to prove they cheated or knew about cheating. Former Peyton Forest Principal Karen Barlow-Brown, who is also implicated in the report and awaiting a hearing, was called to testify on Harris' behalf.
Attorneys for APS portrayed the two as having a "mutual interest in sticking together" in light of the allegations against them. Sherry Hall Culves, APS' attorney, said Harris violated test procedures in order to get Peyton Forest an advantage on the state exam and bonus pay.
"She knowingly and intentionally accepted public money she never earned or deserved," Culves said. "What she did was wrong. Her actions caused students harm. I believe a teacher who cannot admit her wrongdoing and her role in this cheating scandal is not worthy of the superintendent's confidence."
2 Number of educators whose recommended firing was not upheld by a tribunal.
12 Number of educators whose recommended firing has been upheld by a tribunal.
30 Approximate number of educators named in the investigation who are challenging efforts to fire them.
127 Approximate number of educators named in the investigation who resigned or retired.