Former Jefferson Elementary Teacher Fights Back, Sues Investigators for $1 Million-Plus

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Elsa Rodriguez, who was among several teachers accused this year by Houston ISD Superintendent Terry Grier and his administration of manipulating test scores when the 2013 statewide tests were administered to Jefferson Elementary school students that April, has decided to fight back with a civil lawsuit calling for more than $1 million in damages.

According to attorney Larry Watts, who filed the case in state district court, there could have been no way that Rodriguez was involved in anything about the STAAR (State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness) math and reading tests given at Jefferson on April 23 because she suffered such extensive injuries in a Sunday, April 7 car wreck -- a subdural brain hemorrhage, brain injury, concussion, cervical radiculitis and memory loss -- that she was out of work for months.

"Elsa Rodriquez was out of the picture when the STAAR test was given on April 23. HISD knew about it, the Jefferson people knew about it. She was accused of having cheated when she was absent," Watts says.

Rodriguez is asking for more than $1 million (the exact amount is unspecified) from the legal firm of Martin, Disiere, Jefferson and Wisdom which was hired by Grier to conduct the school district's investigation when allegations of test cheating first arose. She is alleging negligence, intentional infliction of significant emotional injury and interference "with the contract and prospective business relationships" in her career as an educator.

Rodriguez suffered major, life-threatening injuries on Sunday, April 7 when the parked car she was sitting in was struck by a drunk driver with enough force to spin the car around and throw Rodriguez into the car's steering wheel and window, says her attorney, said Watts. She did not return to work until June 3, the lawsuit says.

Despite this, and even though HISD had recorded her absence, the law firm's investigators took no notice of this, even when Rodriguez was brought in and told them she wasn't in school then. Instead, the lawsuit says, law firm members reached their conclusions after conducting "unrecorded, misleading interrogations of vulnerable pre-pubescent children, interrogations in English of ESL children (primarily without the use of independent interpreters)."

He pointed out that the 21-year HISD veteran teacher, who previously worked at Edison Middle School, Oates Elementary and Jefferson Elementary, was a peer-selected candidate for teacher of the year in the 2008-9 school year. Despite this, she underwent a "perp walk" when the accusations were finally made against her. HISD refused to renew her contract for the 2014-15 school year until months after other teachers had their contracts renewed and she was moved to another location.

Watts, who also has been representing teachers from Atherton Elementary accused of cheating by Grier's administration in another investigation done by Martin, Disiere, Jefferson and Wisdom, had previously accused the law firm of "sloppiness" in its investigation and continued in that vein Tuesday, saying they "missed Integrity 101 and Accuracy 101 when they went out to do the job."

Of the Atherton teachers, one is back at her job and another is settling with HISD and won't work there again. Two others are continuing to fight the determination that they cheated and their firings by the HISD school board. At Jefferson, five teachers were initially accused of cheating.

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