Education

Teacher Claims He Was Fired For Exposing Cheating Scheme

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Chuck Ross
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A Michigan high school teacher says he was fired after he blew the whistle on the schools’ effort to help students cheat on the ACT standardized exam.

Scott Herlein, who was hired by the Fremont school district in 2005 to teach Spanish, French, psychology and math, claims that as he was supervising an exam in March when he noticed that students’ calculators contained information that had been previously downloaded, according to a complaint he filed July 31 in federal court, Courthouse News reports.

The pre-loaded materials were “ACT help files,” Herlein claims, which “included information that was related to the content of both the ‘Day 1 ACT mathematics assessment’ and the ‘Day 3 Michigan mathematics assessment.’”

Believing that the files violated the law, Herlein turned to the Michigan Department of Education. After receiving no response to his complaint, Herlein contacted the media — a move that spurred the agency into action.

The ensuing investigation found some merit in Herlein’s claim, according to his lawsuit.

“The State, through MDE, eventually conducted an investigation into Mr. Herlein’s report and found that staff of Fremont Public Schools had loaded ACT ‘help information’ onto the school calculators that students had used in an ACT Prep class,” the suit reads.

“The help information was then preloaded onto the school calculators just prior to the administration of the ACT test and the MME [Michigan Merit Examination] exam.”

The education department found that approximately 60 percent of students who took the ACT and another state-based exam “used calculators with the preloaded ACT help information.”

On May 14, the agency issued an “Irregularity Findings and Remediation” notice to the Fremont school district, according to Herlein’s complaint.

The notice stated that “concerns do remain” regarding the help files. The agency also required that the school district “comply with three remediation points” during future state exams.

The next week, on May 21, Fremont superintendent James Hieftje informed Herlein that he was being fired on “tenure charges.” The school board voted unanimously to fire him on May 30.

Herlein is suing the school district, its board of education, school board members and Hietfje, who retired in June, for violating his First Amendment rights. In the suit, he cites the Whistleblower Act, which protects government employees from retribution for reporting internal agency problems.

“Defendants terminated plaintiff for engaging in protected First Amendment free speech, including without limitation, filing a report with the MDE and ACT and contacting local news media,” Herlein’s complaint reads.

“Plaintiff Herlein was speaking as a citizen on a matter of public concern. The administration of state assessments, the results of state assessments and any irregularities regarding state assessments are matters of public concern.”

Ken Haggert, the district’s current superintendent, told The Daily Caller he is unable to comment on the case since Herlein has requested a closed-door tenure hearing.

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