B.C. school administrator fails trust test (Legal view)

Serious misconduct for secretly raising son's marks
By Jeffrey R. Smith
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 12/20/2011

A school district had just cause to fire a high school administrator who tampered with her son’s test results, the B.C. Arbitration Board has ruled.

The administrator was one of three support staff who worked in the office at the Duncan, B.C., high school. She prepared report cards, performed data entry and ran answer sheets from class tests through a machine that calculated the results. The answer sheets featured circles that students filled in according to their choice for each question, which the machine scanned and tabulated. The administrator’s computer was the only one in the office with the software to operate the machine.

The administrator was hired in 2008. Her son attended the school in the 2009-10 school year. The son was a good student but put a lot of pressure on himself and his mother was concerned about his stress levels. She emailed his teachers on Jan. 14, 2010, saying he was overwhelmed and she was trying to help him out.

Test answer sheet altered

On April 13, 2010, the son’s math class was given the first part of a two-part test. After it was completed, the teacher glanced through the sheets to get an idea of how the students did. The sheet of the administrator’s son’s was on top and the teacher estimated he scored about 16 or 17 out of 25. He locked the sheets in a cabinet until the next morning when he took them to the administrator to be scanned and tabulated.

When the math teacher received the report, he was surprised to see the son scored 20 out of 25. He discussed it with the science teacher who was running a test that day, so the science teacher decided to photocopy the son’s answer sheet before submitting it for scanning.

The next day, the answer sheets for the science test were scanned and returned to the science teacher. Upon comparing the original with the photocopy, the teacher found the score had improved by 11 points.

That same day, the second part of the math test was given. The math teacher also photocopied the son’s answer sheet before submitting the sheets to the administrator. When he came to the office, the administrator was talking to another teacher, so he left the sheets on her desk. The match teacher came back one hour later and saw the sheets hadn’t yet been scanned but four answers were changed on the son’s sheet.

A meeting was held on April 19, 2010, between the principal and the son’s teachers. The social sciences teacher was instructed to photocopy the answer sheets of the entire class of that day’s test before submitting them to be scanned. When she picked up the sheets the next morning, the son’s sheet had been changed.

After getting written statements from the teachers, the principal decided to send the administrator home with pay pending an investigation. She was given a letter explaining the allegations and an independent investigator was hired.

The investigator interviewed teachers, staff, the principal and the administrator and reviewed the answer sheets, the son’s grades and other documents. He concluded it was likely the administrator altered the answer sheets to give her son better grades.

At a termination meeting on May 25, the administrator denied the allegations and claimed someone else could have altered the sheets. The union also complained the investigation focused only on the administrator without considering the possibility someone else could have done it, and the school shouldn’t have relied on the report as cause for dismissal.

But the arbitration board found the investigation was carefully and fairly conducted, though the final report mixed in facts and the investigator’s opinion. It also found the school didn’t base the termination on the report but rather on the evidence it already had: The altered answer sheets.

It was easy to alter the answer sheets and the office was often full of people, agreed the board. However, the window of opportunity to change each test was limited and only the administrator had such an opportunity on all occasions.

The first math test was altered shortly before a staff meeting that occupied the rest of the staff. The second was altered in a one-hour time period during which the administrator was at her desk. For the social studies test, it would have been difficult for someone to have altered the son’s sheet at the administrator’s desk without being noticed before the report was picked up first thing in the morning, said the board.

It was likely the administrator altered her son’s test results, found the board. She was familiar with the process, the software was on her computer and the windows of opportunity were too small for someone else to have done it.

This was serious misconduct, said the court in upholding the dismissal, because her position required trust and the school needed to maintain the integrity of student records. See Cowichan Valley School District No. 79 v. C.U.P.E., Local 606, 2011 CarswellBC 3283 (B.C. Arb. Bd.).

Jeffrey R. Smith is the editor of Canadian Employment Law Today, a publication that looks at workplace law from a business perspective. For more information, visit www.employmentlawtoday.com.

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