Teacher accused of FCAT cheating

Published May 2, 2007

LAND O'LAKES - Barbara Heggaton, a special education teacher at Moon Lake Elementary School, could become the first Pasco County educator fired for cheating on the FCAT.

Superintendent Heather Fiorentino wants to dismiss Heggaton, who has worked for the district for four years, accusing her of giving answers to three students while the test was being administered. She has been suspended without pay since March 7.

"I don't believe that a teacher should cheat, and providing the answers would be cheating, " Fiorentino said. "It's not a proper role model for what we expect teachers to do."

Heggaton, who has no other disciplinary actions in her personnel file, has appealed Fiorentino's recommendation to the School Board. The board had scheduled a hearing for May 15 but Heggaton's lawyer, Melissa Mihok, said the hearing will not take place on that date because she had not been notified of the time in advance.

Mihok said she had not yet talked with the people making allegations against Heggaton, so she did not have enough details to offer any comment on the case. Heggaton herself could not be reached for comment.

Lynne Webb, president of the United School Employees of Pasco, said the union is supporting Heggaton but had handed the case over to Mihok and therefore had no comment.

Pasco County has had cases where it has investigated teachers for Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test violations in the past. In 2004, for instance, district staff members looked into whether two Zephyrhills High teachers had altered student test sheets. No one could find proof of wrongdoing by anyone, though.

So this marks the first time in which a teacher faces a penalty because of cheating allegations on the FCAT. Her case also has been referred to the state Education Practices Commission, which could revoke her teaching certificate.

Last year, the state commission took a hard line on a Hillsborough teacher, taking away her certificate despite a hearing officer's recommendation for a lighter punishment. A spokeswoman for the Department of Education said at the time that the state takes a dim view of teachers who compromise the test's integrity.

Fiorentino shared that position.

"The test is secure, " she said. "There are procedures in place, and we must follow them."

If there is a silver lining to the case, Fiorentino said, it's that the students' results were not affected by the teacher's actions.

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at solochek@sptimes.com 813 909-4614 or toll-free 1-800-333-7505 ext. 4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.