Fallout Continues in Texas Border School Test Cheating Scandal

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Associated Press File Photo

The fallout continues in a Texas border school district where officials recently reprimanded three more administrators and two former employees for their alleged roles in a seven-year standardized test cheating scandal.

The State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) slapped El Paso High School Principal Kristine Ferret on the wrist, while placing Adrian Bustillos, the school’s assistant principal, and Grace García Runkles, Coronado High principal, on probation for their purported roles in the El Paso Independent School District cheating scheme, according to documents they signed in May. The SBEC also sanctioned former El Paso High Principal Luis Llano and former Austin High Assistant Principal Jesus Herrera.

This brings the total number of current and former El Paso ISD employees punished for their alleged roles to 21. Breitbart Texas reported that from 2006-13 school district officials falsified documents to make it appear as if students passed their courses and El Paso ISD met or exceeded state and federal accountability standards under No Child Left Behind (NCLB). In reality, the district disguised that certain campuses were failing to avoid possible closure.

State and federal education authorities accused El Paso ISD of robbing students of a proper education because administrators manipulated attendance records, put some students in the wrong grades to avoid standardized testing, pushed others out of school, and even assigned affected high schoolers to “minimester” credit-recovery courses to boost the district’s test scores.

In 2012, Ferret, as El Paso High principal, allegedly gave students credit for subjects they did not show mastery on when taking the state’s former standardized annual exam, the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS). An SBEC reprimand will appear on her educator certificate.

Friday, in a prepared statement, Ferret told the El Paso Times: “I was surprised when I heard that TEA wanted to take action on a concern that was resolved by the district over four years ago.” She said she agreed to the punishment “even though the specific allegation was not true, to avoid taking energy away from the incredible work we are doing at El Paso High.”

Ferret added: “I started as a principal in the spring of 2012, inheriting an accelerated instruction program to regain credit that followed district policy. I ended the program after my first semester as principal in 2012, months before it ended districtwide, preferring a more regulated and rigorous approach to demonstrating mastery.”

Like Ferret, Runkles denied committing any wrongdoing for allegedly allowing students to earn credit without showing “mastery of the required curriculum” between 2010-12 when serving as an El Paso ISD assistant principal. The SBEC waived her one year suspension for probation, according the Agreed Order.

Bustillos, accused of allowing students to garner credits falsely between 2009-11 as an El Paso High assistant principal, agreed to the SBEC’s reprimand to avoid legal action. The SBEC also downgraded his one year suspension to probation.

El Paso ISD spokesman Gustavo Reveles told the Times the punitive actions taken against the three administrators do not affect their employment with the school district.

The state also sanctioned Llano, who now is principal of Paso Del Norte Academy-Mesa Charter School in El Paso. In 2011, district officials removed him as El Paso High School principal and put him in a central office position where he remained until he resigned two years later, according to the El Paso newspaper. Llano received a one year suspension but it was deferred to probation. In Herrera’s case, the SBEC doled out an inscribed reprimand to his certification. Today, he is a Title I coordinator in a Las Cruces, New Mexico school.

On June 12, five former El Paso ISD administrators indicted by a federal grand jury last year for their roles in the cheating scheme, go to trial. They are James Anderson, John Tanner, Diane Thomas, Mark Tegmeyer, and Nancy Love.

In 2014, Breitbart Texas reported the state took action against 11 employees who purported participated in the ruse masterminded by the district’s former superintendent Lorenzo García. Two years earlier, he pleaded guilty to federal charges of conspiracy to defraud the TEA and U.S. Department of Education. He served 42 months in prison, received three years supervised release, and had to pay a $180,000 restitution fine. He voluntarily relinquished his teaching credentials. Because García participated in a drug counseling program, the feds shortened his sentence by 11 months, releasing him in 2014.

Follow Merrill Hope, a member of the original Breitbart Texas team, on Twitter.

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