The Sunnyside Unified School District has reached a settlement with a former academic coach who said her contract was not renewed after she alleged cheating at an elementary school two years ago.
Jean Olson, an educator with more than three decades of experience, reported nine teachers at Los Niños Elementary School, 5445 S. Alvernon Way, directed first- and second-graders to cheat during benchmark testing.
Schools use benchmark tests to measure how students are progressing and whether teachers need to adjust their lesson plans in preparation for the state-mandated AIMS test, which starts in third grade.
Olson, who oversaw testing at the school, said she saw test papers and heard student comments that indicated teachers were telling students to change wrong answers on tests. She also noticed suspiciously high levels of improvement in some classes from one nine-week period to the next.
A week after she reported her concerns, she said that she was informed her contract would not be renewed. She filed a whistle-blower complaint, and then in 2011 a wrongful-termination lawsuit in Pima County Superior Court. The trial was to start in two weeks.
The Governing Board approved the settlement at its meeting Tuesday. The board voted on it after an executive session and did not discuss the issue in public.
Olson's attorney, Armand Salese, said he could not discuss the terms because the agreement is confidential. Olson also said she could not discuss the settlement.
Sunnyside district's Superintendent Manuel L. Isquierdo did not respond for comment.
Under Arizona public-records laws, the Star requested the amount of the settlement from the district and its attorney, Donald Peder Johnsen, an employment and labor law specialist in Phoenix, but the amount was not released.
In an email, Johnsen said the settlement conference details were sealed by the court.
Olson stated in her lawsuit that she was wrongfully terminated under the Arizona Employment Protection Act. The suit claimed Olson:
• Reported cheating that she observed by certain teachers during benchmark testing, which constituted violations of state law, mismanagement and/or abuse of authority.
• Suffered retaliation, financial harm, economic disadvantages, mental pain and anguish for the disclosures.
• Olson sought back and future pay, compensatory damages, emotional damages, attorney's fees and costs.
Contact reporter Carmen Duarte at 573-4104 or firstname.lastname@example.org