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Ex-teacher sues SACS on job loss

Claims she was defamed by ISTEP cheating allegations

A former teacher has sued Southwest Allen County Schools in Allen Superior Court, accusing the district of forcing her to resign and defaming her by telling others she fostered cheating on the ISTEP+ tests.

Filed Friday by Laura Farner against SACS, the board of trustees and district superintendent Steven Yager, the lawsuit seeks damages and a hearing before the board to clear her name.

In March 2011, SACS discovered a Summit Middle School teacher breached protocol on the state’s annual ISTEP test, given annually to assess school and student performance. The test scores for 120 seventh-graders were invalidated, according to court documents.

Yager sent letters to the parents of children who may have been affected and then two anonymous callers implicated Farner in another possible ISTEP violation, this time at Haverhill Elementary School. Very shortly after those phone calls, Farner was placed on administrative leave.

A 28-year employee of the district, Farner contends she was told that if she resigned, the list of accusations would not be put in her personnel file and she could retain her benefits, according to court documents.

In the lawsuit, Farner said she felt she needed to retire at the end of the 2010-11 school year in order to protect her retirement. She asked for a hearing before the board to “respond to the false charges and to clear her name” but that request was denied, according to court documents.

Yager outlined why Farner was going to be fired on May 3, 2011, according to documents on a website www.laurafarner.com.

The website was created on Farner’s behalf after the allegations arose and as parents were asking questions about her departure.

Yager alleged insubordination, neglect of duty, immorality and other good cause. The letter accuses Farner of “dumping” a student’s desk over to help him find a piece of paper which caused a student to be hit by a book.

Regarding the ISTEP test, Yager wrote that there were allegations Farner told students the correct answers to put on their test.

“By providing answers or by assisting students … students may believe ‘cheating’ is acceptable behavior,” Yager wrote in the letter, dated March 29, 2011.

Another letter published on the website is purportedly from Farner to Yager, and dated April 22, 2011, a few days after she sent an email informing the district she would retire at the end of the school year.

In that letter, Farner categorically denied cheating on the ISTEP tests, and accused the district of conducting an incomplete and inadequate investigation into the anonymous allegations.

“The only thing (the students) did see was my telling a student to erase the scribbling on his paper so that people would be able to read his answers, not to change his answers,” Farner wrote in her letter. “This is not a protocol violation and should not have invalidated any test scores.”

When reached Monday, Yager declined to comment because of the pending lawsuit.

rgreen@jg.net

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