Barrington teacher’s dismissal ‘good and just’ says education commissioner

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Rhode Island Commissioner of Education Deborah Gist recently ruled against an appeal filed by former Barrington High School teacher Kelly McKenney, who was fired in 2011 after she allegedly helped two students cheat on an exam.

Ms. Gist released the decision on Tuesday morning, Sept. 4, clearly backing Barrington school officials who first placed Ms. McKinney on paid leave Oct. 24, 2011, and then fired her about a month later.

“While we are aware of McKenney’s excellent record as a teacher and her devotion to the education of her students, we much conclude that her actions in undermining the academic integrity of a significant student evaluation establishes good and just cause in support of her dismissal as a tenured teacher,” stated the commissioner’s decision.

The Barrington School Committee had alleged two reasons for Ms. McKenney’s firing.

The committee stated she had posted a study guide on the school’s website that “compromised the integrity” of an examination and also “defended her actions in a manner that was dishonest.” The school committee also alleged that Ms. McKenney coached two students to the correct answers on a World History final exam, and at the same time left several other students unattended in a different area of the high school.

Ms. McKenney argued against both claims. She said there was no district policy prohibiting teachers posting study guides for their students, and that her coaching of the two students in question “did not equate by any standard to cheating.” She went one step further and said her work with the students during the exam was “required by School Committee policy.”

Ms. Gist ruled differently on the two allegations.

“While McKenney’s dissemination of this study guide properly called for corrective action by school authorities, the dissemination of this study guide alone does not establish good and just cause to terminate McKenney’s employment,” the decision stated.

Ms. Gist wrote that Ms. McKenney’s work with two students during an exam, however, did cross the line.

“We find that McKenney, perhaps out of misguided sympathy for the two students who were at academic risk upon failing the exam,  facilitated and fostered through her actions student responses that undermined the academic integrity of the examinations being taken by the two students,” stated the decision.

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