Columbia County school officials voted late tonight to uphold the termination of Lakeside High School teacher Margaret Mudrak, accused of helping special needs students cheat on tests.
Her attorney said she would appeal the decision to the state board. The vote was 4-0 with board member Roxanne Whitaker absent.
Mudrak "inappropriately" helped as many as four special needs students with a math test, as evidenced by their similar answers on the quiz, said Columbia County School Board attorney Pete Fletcher.
Mudrak also failed to follow mandated plans for special needs students, called the Individual Education Plan, made inappropriate amendments to those plans and provided too much assistance to a student who had failed another test, Fletcher said in his opening statement.
One of Mudrak’s students, identified on the stand only as “A.H.,” testified that Mudrak guided him toward specific answers during testing.
Mudrak went so far as to work through the problem for him and then tell him, “write this on the answer sheet,” said the 16-year-old rising junior.
School officials presented test scores for that test from Mudrak’s special ed students, showing they had a 92 average. Two other regular ed classes taking the same test averaged 84 and 73, they noted.
Mudrak's defense attorneys in rebuttal called to the witness stand another student, identified only as "A.R.," who said on the day of testing that he neither received any help from Mudrak nor saw any other students receive help.
A.R. said he scored 100 on the test.
In earlier testimony, Lakeside High Assistant Principal Melanie Sprouse said Mudrak helped students during the tests by giving "specific points to students that led to answers." Sprouse said one student told her Mudrak directed her to erase an incorrect answer on a test.
After Mudrak pushed for a special needs student to retake a math exam, Sprouse agreed to administer the test in April.
On test day, Sprouse testified, the student arrived with sheets containing information he could not keep during the exam. The handwriting on the sheets looked like that of Mudrak's, Sprouse said.
The veteran teacher's attorney, Freddie Sanders, disputed the charges and said the similarities in students' answers were the natural result of Mudrak's teaching methods.
As far as helping the student receive a retest, Sanders said it was indicative of the 30-year teacher's desire to "help her students to a fault."
On cross examination, Sanders got Sprouse to admit that she witnessed no wrongdoing by Mudrak.
School officials recently recommended firing Mudrak, but as a tenured teacher she is entitled to a hearing to fight the charges against her. The members of the county's school board serve as judges in such cases.
A crowd of supporters were attending today's hearing for Mudrak, who also serves as a boys lacrosse coach for Lakeside.