Claiming incumbent Devon Anderson has helped launch a "war on teachers," representatives from five Houston-area teacher groups vowed to back Kim Ogg for District Attorney at a news conference Tuesday.
At issue is a supposed agreement between the Harris County District Attorney's Office and Superintendent Terry Grier, an agreement under which the DA's office would help investigate any future allegations of cheating on standardized tests in the district.
"The DA's office is not the testing police," Ogg declared. "Allegations of cheating are basically administrative violations."
There's just one little problem that Anderson-backed "war on teachers," though: it doesn't appear to exist.
Earlier this month the Chron's Ericka Mellon reported that Grier "said he met with District Attorney Devon Anderson late last week to discuss how her office could help, possibly using its power to issue subpoenas to compel testimony against educators cheating the system to benefit themselves financially." While Mellon's article said Grier had "enlisted the assistance of the Harris County District Attorney's Office" and reached an "informal local agreement" with Anderson, it appears Grier may have exaggerated just a tad.
DA's office spokesman Jeff McShan told us flatly on Tuesday, "There's no agreement."
Still, stumping for Ogg on Tuesday, HFT president Gayle Fallon claimed that DA Anderson wants to send investigators into schools to question teachers. At a press conference, Fallon openly warned that DA's officials could soon come onto school campuses to question and detain teachers at Grier's behest.
"We are taking a very strong stand," Fallon said.
Ogg, flanked by representatives from HFT, Alief, Cy-Fair, Fort Bend, and Spring Branch, claimed this "war on teachers" comes at too high a cost for innocent educators, and that the current DA seeks to "criminalize education." "This ought to scare parents," she said.
"War" or not, HISD educators certainly have reason to be on edge. The district has been rocked by allegations that teachers improperly helped students boost their standardized test scores. Teachers at Atherton and Jefferson have vehemently denied those allegations, and some have even questioned the investigation launched by an outside law firm hired by the district. In some instances, accused HISD teachers were proven to not have even worked on testing days. In another case, Elsa Rodriguez, a Jefferson teacher accused in the cheating scandal, was in a catastrophic accident after being hit by a drunk driver. She had taken medical leave well before testing at the school even took place, and her injuries put her out of work for months.
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Still, as devastating as the HISD cheating scandal may have been for some educators, the fear that the DA's office has made a special deal with Grier to further investigate teachers appears be unwarranted.
"The DA's office has agreed to review any case of organized cheating," said Sara Kinney, Anderson's campaign spokesperson. But that's hardly unusual, or proof that the DA's office is helping Grier crack down on cheating. "The office will review any type of evidence, and will absolutely take it in front of a grand jury, should evidence exist, but that's what they would do in any case," Kinney said.
And reviewing evidence of cheating is exactly what Ogg says she would do in cases where test doctoring is alleged, should she be elected.
"Testing should be left as an administrative matter until their is sufficient evidence," says Ogg. "If there is evidence, show it to me. If evidence exists to prove it, great -- I'll look at it."