Lakeside High teacher's dismissal upheld

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.

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.

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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