An independent hearing officer who found that there was not enough credible evidence to hold Abbottston Elementary Principal Angela Faltz responsible for suspected cheating at the school also determined that charges made by the school system that she knowingly violated federal law by staffing her classrooms with para-educators were unfounded.
In documents obtained by The Baltimore Sun, the hearing officer determined that while Faltz did use para-educators, the practice was known to and endorsed by high-ranking school officials in the system, including Faltz's supervisor, who was a church member of one of Abbottston's para-educators.
Under the No Child Left Behind Act, all Title I schools such as Abbottston are required to have highly qualified teachers in the core academic subjects such as English and math. Para-educators aren’t fully licensed to teach and are required to work under the supervision of a teacher.
The city school system did not respond Friday to a request for comment.
In March 2010, at the time of the Maryland School Assessment, school officials reported that there were 1,420 city teachers who were not rated "highly qualified," teaching core academic subjects in Title I schools, the hearing officer stated.
The system also never disciplined any other principal in the system for using paraprofessionals, city school officials testified.
"Against this systemwide endorsement of the practice, it is wholly inappropriate and fundamentally unfair to selectively punish Dr. Faltz for the following practice," the officer concluded.
The charges of the Title I violations came months after the school system filed a statement of charges solely for the cheating allegations. The original statement of charges for the cheating allegations were filed in May 2011, and the amended statement of charges with Title I violations were filed in September.
It was also found that the one class that performed at 100 percent proficiency in the year of the suspected cheating and the following year of heavy monitoring was taught by a para-educator.
The class consisted of the same students she had taught the previous year, and had not experienced flux such as high mobility and teacher turnover like other classrooms that saw declines.
The officer also stated in the finding of facts that the school did follow requirements to inform parents that their students were being taught by para-educators and given the option to transfer their children. No parent made the request.
As a result, the hearing officer concluded in her final opinion, "credible and overwhelming evidence establishes that it was a common, established and accepted practice for Title I principals to use non-certificated and non highly qualified educators as classroom instructors."