The Florida Department of Law Enforcement on Friday announced the arrests of three former Pasco County high-school teachers who are accused of fraudulently helping students pass state agricultural industry certification exams.
Investigators alleged that teachers Harold “Jim” Martin, Robert Herrington and Kathleen Troutman ran a scheme that involved the teachers taking the exams together and later providing what were essentially exact copies as “study guides” to students. The teachers also are alleged to have recruited students to allow the teachers to take cell-phone photos of exams.
The photos were used to update the study guides. Florida Department of Law Enforcement Tampa Bay Special Agent in Charge Mark Brutnell on Friday told reporters that 284 students took exams using the study guides. Authorities said they were alerted by the company that develops the tests, Agriculture Education Services and Technology, a subsidiary of the Florida Farm Bureau. The company told investigators that a student came forward with a tip about cheating on the tests.
A subsequent audit showed “several irregularities,” including how quickly students who used the study guides finished the exams, according to authorities. The teachers were arrested Wednesday and face charges of running an organized scheme to defraud, a second-degree felony. Brutnell said teachers are given bonuses by the Florida Department of Education when the exams are successfully completed.
The Pasco County school district said Friday that more than 1,000 industry certification tests from Hudson High School have been invalidated by Agriculture Education Services and Technology. A news release from the district added that “arrangements are being made” so that the affected students can retake the tests for free.
“They (the teachers) took advantage of students for personal gain, and that kind of behavior is shocking to teachers everywhere who sacrifice for their students every day,” Pasco schools Superintendent Kurt Browning said in a statement. The FDLE investigation is ongoing.
–News Service of Florida