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Lakeside High teacher's dismissal upheld

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The Columbia County school board voted Tuesday night to uphold the termination of a Lakeside High School teacher accused of helping special needs students cheat on tests.

Lakeside High School special education teacher Margaret Mudrak sits with her attorneys, Freddie Sanders and Zeva Bruckner, at her termination hearing at the Columbia County school board.   Jim Blaylock/Staff
Jim Blaylock/Staff
Lakeside High School special education teacher Margaret Mudrak sits with her attorneys, Freddie Sanders and Zeva Bruckner, at her termination hearing at the Columbia County school board.

Margaret 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.

The board voted 4-0, with board member Roxanne Whitaker absent, after daylong testimony and an hour and a half of deliberations.

Mudrak's attorney, Freddie Sanders, said the decision would be appealed to the state Board of Education.

In testimony earlier Tuesday, one of Mudrak's students, identified on the stand only as "A.H.," said Mudrak guided him toward 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 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.

In rebuttal, Mudrak's attorneys called to the witness stand another student, identified as "A.R.," who said 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 that Mudrak directed her to erase an incorrect answer.

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 Mudrak's, Sprouse said.

Sanders 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 was entitled to a hearing on the charges against her. The school board members serve as judges in such cases.

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KaTM
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KaTM 06/10/10 - 09:10 am
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Little Lamb: I agree with you

Little Lamb: I agree with you that your suggestion of having someone else come in and administer tests is a good idea in theory. However, with special education students, they are granted certain accommodations in their IEP's. That information is confidential and only shown to the student, parent, teacher, and "folder holder." So having someone come in to give the tests would not be a good thing since they are unfamiliar with the guidelines in the IEP's. The students would get hurt in that process since they would not be given their accommodations. That's why I'm proposing a new law that gives teachers the right to bring in a recording device for evidentiary purposes. The teachers need protection here.

Local Interests
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Local Interests 06/10/10 - 09:10 am
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I agree with Molleigh that we

I agree with Molleigh that we need to look a little harder into our definition of cheating. The overall goal of a teacher is to help the child learn to learn. After all, we all (should) continue to learn our entire lives.

If helping a child prepare for a test is cheating, then what do we call it when we well-meaning parents pretty much "do" out child's science project or some out-of-class written assignment?

All parents have done it, myself included. We all think we are able to do it in a constructive manner that ultimately leads to our child learning from the experience. Who knows, some of us might have even been right.

Proud American
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Proud American 06/10/10 - 09:18 am
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Seems as though as people

Seems as though as people were waiting the hour and a half (9PM until 10:30) for them to deliberate their decision on Mrs. Mudrak's life they were enjoying sandwiches and tv! Maybe they should not have left the blinds open......... I certainly hope that the voters of Columbia county will make sure that these board members don't make it another term. They certainly won't get my vote!

Neveragain
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Neveragain 06/10/10 - 09:28 am
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Someone need to look at the

Someone need to look at the school board. why in the world wouldspecial ed and regular ed students do the same work or take the same test. Students are put in special ed because they have a learning disability. Also I believe scoopy mention that the schools do not use the text books. She is so correct. As disipline for my child I use to make him bring his text books home. I believe only his science class assigned work from the text book, everything else was from articles off the web or something from a pamplet or made up by the teacher. Giving him extra work from the text book would be entirely differnt from what was assigned. He did the work in the book anyway.
We as parents must stay on top of what is taught in the classes. Maybe the board is just embarrassed that special needs students did better then regular ones. I've also noticed that most special needs students are just students with more of a disipline problem than with a learning disability.

Neveragain
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Neveragain 06/10/10 - 09:47 am
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If we can't trust our

If we can't trust our teachers to administer tests then they don't need to be teachers. Even in some of my college classes the prof would walk around and if he/she saw that an answer was wrong they may comment on it or bring up to the class to, 'remember when we discussed this'. Or tell us to rewrite a portion of the paper to reflect something. Should they be fired?

Little Lamb
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Little Lamb 06/10/10 - 10:41 am
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Yes.

Yes.

Little Lamb
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Little Lamb 06/10/10 - 10:44 am
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I never had a teacher or

I never had a teacher or professor do what you described, Neveragain. If what you describe is the norm for teachers today, then heaven help our society; everyone will be expecting help from everyone else, and we will be ripe for takeover by a dictator. Oh, wait, it has already begun!

blondesacheen
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blondesacheen 06/10/10 - 12:49 pm
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Very interesting comments.

Very interesting comments. As a SpEd teacher, everyone needs to realize that students with disabilities are expected to meet the same state curriculum as students without disabilities. Their accommodations and modifications are intended to help them to gain access to the curriculum despite their disability. This was changed because so many school systems were classifying students as special needs in order to NOT include them in classrooms, testing, sports, etc.

As far as the new math curriculum, I don't like it. Students with disabilities often (not always) have trouble in reading. The new math curriculum is very heavy in this area and therefore causes problems for our students who used to do well in math. It's a shame.

As far as having monitors in classrooms during testing...It is sometimes a nightmare just to get small settings for our students with disabilities for their testing...let alone pulling another teacher out to give one test? It will never happen, unless we have lots of money.

I think that Mrs. Mudrack has been given a raw deal. I can't imagine losing my job over a simple classroom test. I have some students who can not write notes effectively and have had to give them copies of notes. When available, I have a student who is a good note taker allow me to copy theirs, but if I have no other option, I write them myself. I co-teach in many classrooms and always discuss IEPs and Modifications with my co-teachers. If the modifications call for retesting or copies of notes then she is correct in fulfilling those, according to FEDERAL laws and standards. I love columbia county and its schools, but there are definite things that need to be addressed as far "you scratch my back and I'll scratch yours" mentalities. I have witnessed these personally and know they occur. If teachers could voice their concerns without fear of retribution, things would be better. Perhaps Mrs. Mudrack is the one to bring it all out and change can occur.

smalltowngal
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smalltowngal 06/10/10 - 01:22 pm
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Im a Special Ed teacher. By

Im a Special Ed teacher. By some disabilitiy's nature, these students can't retain information as other students do, but need accommendations and modifications on test. Some of these modifications include giving them verbal cues to help them assess the information taught. We do that all the time using matching tests and word banks for fill in the blank, just to name a few ways. We may even ask them to remember back to when we discussed or reviewed a particular question on the tests. In essesce, we dont give them the answer, but help them to access the answer because we want them to succeed. Sp. Ed has been unfairly treated as far as I and many of my collegues are concerned. We have to test our children using the same standerdized tests as for the regular students no matter what their disability. We teach to the same state standards as do the regular school teachers do. Ending a Sp. Ed. Teachers career over a classroom test is not in keeping with the basis philosopy of its teacher-to help the child succeed. Maybe, the regular ed teacher should rethink how they devise their testing methods.

scoobynews
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scoobynews 06/10/10 - 01:33 pm
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Local made a very good point.

Local made a very good point. What about parents that "help" or worse yet do their kids whole project?? I had a child this past year who NEVER turned anything in the day it was due. NEVER!! In fact this turned out to be the pattern in all of his classes. The material he did turn in could not have possibly been completed by him. It was neat, organized, and always typed. This child was one of the most disorganized kids you would ever come across. We are pretty certain that his mother did all his work. She was constantly at the school for conferences and the child had a daily agenda that had to be signed. Any time he had a project she wanted a copy of the rubric. Is this cheating?? It certainly is. She is cheating her child out of doing his own work and earning his own grade. The grade he is earning was not his own and very unfair to all the students who really did do their work.

blondesacheen
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blondesacheen 06/10/10 - 01:49 pm
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"Mudrak also failed to follow

"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."

What kind of evidence do they have on all this other stuff? I know that every time a sped teacher makes a change on an IEP it is now documented by the system that is used...does that mean there is no evidence of the rest? If so, how can it be in the article?

KaTM
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KaTM 06/10/10 - 02:15 pm
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Blond, Smalltown, and Scooby

Blond, Smalltown, and Scooby all made excellent points. Thank you.

To answer Blond's question "what kind of evidence do they have on all this stuff?" none. if you were at the hearing you would know that our lawyer pointed that out and that the quote from the paper you put in your last post came from Fletcher's opening statement.

None of you are lawyers, yet you easily pointed out flaws in the prosecution's case just by using common sense. I'm honestly mentally, emotionally, and physically tired from all of this and the last thing I have to say on here is simply, "I support my mom, I always will. She did nothing wrong and I can only hope that you all will continue to support her as well."

bone1
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bone1 06/10/10 - 02:20 pm
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Little Lamb, what was

Little Lamb, what was described by neveragain seems to be completely within the bounds of assessment. teachers aren't out to play "gotcha" with kids: if i'm administering an assessment and i can help a child to recall information without giving the answer, i will always do that. most teachers will tell you that since we have begun teaching for mastery it is quite common to retest if it can be determined that a child has acquired a concept or skill which wasn't apparent on the day of testing. what about that scares you so much? society gives second chances everyday in almost every arena; do you honestly believe that a child should function at a different standard than adults? i worry that the gulf between what people know about education and what is really happening in classrooms is so great that there is no possible way to explain the current strategies. and yes, scooby, i would agree that if it is unlawful to assist students with any part of their work, then parents should suffer some form of punishment if it can be shown that they assisted their child with an assignment. this is one of the main reasons homework is slowly being removed from primary and middle schools.

Kerusso
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Kerusso 06/10/10 - 03:25 pm
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A.H., one of the witnesses,

A.H., one of the witnesses, according to material posted on FaceBook and revealed by Austin Rhodes, shows this young man to be unbalanced and needing help....smearing the teacher's character and reputation --- hope the Chronicle will jump on this!!!

Riverman1
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Riverman1 06/10/10 - 03:26 pm
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Little Lamb, settle down now

Little Lamb, settle down now with the dictator talk and all.

Apparently the kid who testified against Ms. Mudrak has a Facebook page where he admitted he lied so he could get Ms. Mudrak. Austin Rhodes has been on this today.

lenab
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lenab 06/10/10 - 03:32 pm
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I was at the entire hearing

I was at the entire hearing on Tuesday, and just realized another point that should be reflected on to get to the truth. Mrs. Mudrak co-taught this particular class with Mrs. Shephard who made up the classroom test, though she did not ask Mrs. Mudrak for any assistance in forming the test. In fact, Mrs. Mudrak didn't have the test until it was time to be administered to her 5 special education students. Mrs. Shephard had 19 regular education students in this class. Mrs. Shephard also taught this class 2 other periods each day to regular education students. When she graded the papers she found it hard to believe that the special education students would each get one particular problem regarding a graph correct. She brought these 5 tests to Mrs. Sprouse, who took them home overnight to review what Mrs. Shephard was saying. The next day she asked Mrs. Shephard to bring her tests belonging to the regular ed students. Mrs. Shephard brought her 7 tests, Mrs. Sprouse took three off the top of the pile to use as a sample. During the hearing we found out that the 3 regular education tests that were evaluated were not from the period that Mrs. Shephard and Mrs. Mudrak co-taught. Now, lets use a little math, and a little logic, if Mrs. Shephard taught 19 students in one inclusion class, her other two class teaching the same subject most likely had more than 19 students. I'll stay with the 19 students in each class 19 x 3= 57 tests available for regular ed students. Why did Mrs. Shephard only give Mrs. Sprouse 7 to choose from, and why did Mrs. Sprouse only take 3 off the top? Mrs. Sprouse evaluated 100% of the special ed tests, but (where is Mrs. Mudrak when I need her) less than 2% of the regular education tests. Oh by the way, all of the regular education tests were "destroyed", so they could not be turned over to Mrs. Mudrak's attorney when requested.

lenab
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lenab 06/10/10 - 03:39 pm
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For the record, I fully

For the record, I fully believe the truth is on Mrs. Mudrak's side. I have no idea how the board members could have voted the way they did. I feel it is to show support for their administration, and please remember that Dr. Carney who brought these charges against Mrs. Mudrak as Lakeside's principal had recently been promoted to assistant school superintendent. In my humble opinion not only did they make a mistake in voting, but also in promoting Dr. Carney.

forwhatitsworth
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forwhatitsworth 06/10/10 - 03:45 pm
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Is destruction of evidence

Is destruction of evidence against the law? Mrs. Shephard testified she destroyed them at the end of school- was this after they were requested by the defense?

smalltowngal
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smalltowngal 06/10/10 - 03:54 pm
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Can't believe someone can be

Can't believe someone can be fired when evidence has been destroyed. Now if you as an administrtor, curriculum coordinator, or principal just disagree with the way this teacher taught, with the way she interacted with the kids, or any of her behaior that could be deemed inappropriate at school, then, by all means, dont renew her contract. But over a simple in class tests-geez, sue, lady, sue. Its hard enough for us teachers to do all that's required and expected of us without us having to worry about helping a child access information on a test. Give me a break here. I love my job and plan on continuing to do my best each and every day, no matter the lack of parental support, no matter the myriad of changes we contend with, no matter the furloughs, no matter the lenghtened school day. But, its my classroom and my test. I know what I want my students to learn and i know how to test them.

smalltowngal
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smalltowngal 06/10/10 - 03:58 pm
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And, one more comment, lol.

And, one more comment, lol. I alwys test/retest my students on regular classroom tests due to many of them having extreme test anxiety, not to mention, memory difficulties.

ColCtyLife
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ColCtyLife 06/10/10 - 03:59 pm
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Margaret Mudrak is awesome

Margaret Mudrak is awesome and has many friends and supporters! We love you!

schoolparent
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schoolparent 06/10/10 - 04:48 pm
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I can only imagine the

I can only imagine the squirming that is going on within the CCBOE right now.The assistant principal from Lakeside had her testimony labeled as hearsay and the student that testified on behalf of Lakeside is now admitting on his Facebook account that he was not honest with his testimony.

walkedit
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walkedit 06/10/10 - 07:00 pm
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The real shame in Columbia

The real shame in Columbia County is the counselors who deny children the support of special education, and even suggest they get a GED rather than having to " put up" with them for another year. This needs to be exposed. I would give anything for a teacher to have taken as much concern as alleged Mrs.Mudrak took. If anyone from the board is reading this, please contact me and I will happy to elaborate. However, it is obviously a policy that is encouraged to save money so the mail ordered doctorates get them more pay raises!

LHSalumniparent
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LHSalumniparent 06/10/10 - 07:03 pm
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Somebody needs to investigate

Somebody needs to investigate Shephard, Sprouse, Carney and Nagle. I hope you all slept well the other night. Now with what has come about with "A.H.", how will all of you be sleeping tonight? You had to know what this kid is like. Sprouse should have nipped this in the bud; actually Shephard should have talked to Mrs Mudrak first. Seems to me Shephard can't stand to have been out-taught. Of all the tests in 3 classes I'm sure Shephard picked the ones she wanted to show the VP. I am willing to bet most of the other tests had answers that were like the SP. Ed kids.

Riverman1
89986
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Riverman1 06/11/10 - 08:52 am
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I would like for someone in

I would like for someone in the media to interview the BOE members about this matter if for nothing else to find out if there can/will be a reversal or new hearing.

puppydog
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puppydog 06/11/10 - 09:07 am
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If Shephard, Sprouse, Carney

If Shephard, Sprouse, Carney and Nagle are not investigated, then corruption is truly run amok in Columbia County schools. When you have one of the chief prosecution witnesses bragging on his facebook page about lying about Mrs. Mudrack, an immediate appeal and reversal is in order. Very convenient, Ms. SHephard for destroying evidence, especially after you deceitfully cherry picked just a few of the reg ed students tests instead of the whole batch. Corruption all the way around led to the unwarranted firing of this deserving teacher and I hope she sues the pants off the Columbia County school system and I hope the State Dept of Education investigates Shephard, Sprouse, Carney and Nagle. They are the ones who should lose their jobs! The public is outraged over this and it will not stand!!

kel1234
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kel1234 06/11/10 - 03:02 pm
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This case was ridiculous from

This case was ridiculous from the beginning but in light of all the info that has surfaced since then "CCBOE ,Mr.Carney,Mrs. Sprouse, Mrs. Shepard and Mr. Nagle should be investigated". I'm thinking that when all is said and done the termination will be reversed and Dr. Carney, Mrs. Sprouse & Mrs. Shepard will be job hunting.Isn't it a shame the situation wasn't handled correctly the first go round!!!

Riverman1
89986
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Riverman1 06/12/10 - 04:34 am
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What happened to the story in

What happened to the story in the AC about the CCBOE internet specialist who decided the FaceBook story was bogus? There were many good comments that have disappeared along with the story.

Riverman1
89986
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Riverman1 06/12/10 - 04:54 am
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I found the story form

I found the story form yesterday. It is now under Topics---Columbia County Schools, bottom right of the opening "Home" page.

Riverman1
89986
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Riverman1 06/12/10 - 05:00 am
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It appears the CCBOE is

It appears the CCBOE is attempting to answer the question of the validity of the testimony of this questionable, but critical witness.

But is their answer what Mr. Van Meter has said?

If so it appears, many more questions have surfaced. Keep in mind, the CCBOE is taking away this lady's retirement, after many years of teaching with superior evaluations.

It's obvious, the BOE too believe, the testimony of A.H. was instrumental in their decision and want to know if those are his comments on FaceBook as evidenced by getting their IT person involved to inform them.

This has turned into the key factor along with the methods Mr. Van Meter used and why he used them?

To explain, his conclusions based on what he said were troubling to most of us.

I've been supportive of the BOE members and believe they are trying to do the right thing and have more info than we have, including being able to evaluate the personalities of the people involved.

However, the two factors that apparently were instrumental in their decision to fire the teacher are questionable. The notes the kid brought into the classroom are nothing out of the ordinary and now the star witness is highly suspect.

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