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Former El Paso Superintendent Charged in Cheating Scandal, Conspired to Remove Black Students from Schools to Get ‘Passing’ Certification

Former El Paso Independent School District assistant superintendent James Anderson
Former El Paso Independent School District assistant superintendent James Anderson

A former assistant superintendent of El Paso’s Independent School District was arrested Wednesday in connection with a cheating scandal, the El Paso Times reports.

Forty-year-old James Anderson, an assistant superintendent for secondary education, was indicted along with five other El Paso educators for allegedly plotting and scheming to help the EPISD bypass state and federal accountability measures between February 2006 and September 2006, according to KVIA News. Anderson is charged with conspiracy to defraud the United States; conspiracy to commit mail fraud; mail fraud; and making a false statement to a federal investigator.

The indictment also accuses the former assistant superintendent and other administrators of attempting to reduce or completely remove Black students from certain schools in order to trick the Department of Education into thinking there were no African-American sub groups at EPISD Priority Division schools. Per KVIA, the group reportedly encouraged other El Paso Independent School District employees to lie about the scheme and threatened those who refused to go along with their plan.

The cheating scandal occurred when the state of Texas mandated that at least 90 percent of students at every school receive a passing grade on the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills, according to the Texas Education Agency website.

Individual subgroups, which are based on race, socioeconomic status and proficiency in the English language, must also satisfy the 90 percent requirement for the school to receive a passing certification, KVIA News reports. Anderson and the other teachers devised the scheme in hopes of drastically reducing the likelihood of  El Paso schools receiving a failing grade by getting rid of the sub groups they considered to be “at risk.”

The plan was created “in order to disguise the fact that certain schools (in the district) were failing aspects of AYP (Adequate Yearly Progress),” the indictment states.

Per KVIA News, Anderson could spend up to five years in federal prison if convicted of conspiring to defraud the government; up to 20 years behind bars upon conviction of conspiracy to commit mail fraud; maximum 20 years in federal prison if he’s convicted of committing mail fraud; and up to five years for making a false statement to a  federal agent.

The El Paso Times reports that the five other educators charged in the cheating scandal include former EPISD associate superintendent Damon Murphy; former Austin High School principal John Tanner; and former Austin assistant principals Diane Thomas, Mark Tegmeyer and Nancy Love. All are currently out on bond.

The five plotted to erase students from specific classes and then falsified documents to show that the students attended classes and received passing grades in their courses.

“This continues to be an ongoing investigation. The five defendants who appeared in court [Wednesday] were the defendants with whom the federal government had successfully negotiated a surrender,” said Keith Byers, assistant special agent in charge of the FBI’s El Paso office.

According to the El Paso Times, Murphy, Tanner and Tegmeyer were each indicted for conspiring to defraud the United States, conspiring to commit mail fraud, and substantive mail fraud. All could possibly face a 20-year sentence if convicted of the crimes.  The paper also reports that Tanner, Tegmeyer, Thomas and Love were charged with conspiracy to retaliate against a witness. That charge carries a possible 10-year prison term.

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