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Principals fired in test cheating win back jobs through arbitration

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

Two principals fired by the Philadelphia School District in the wake of the statewide standardized-test cheating scandal have won favorable rulings through arbitration that could return them to school leadership.

Michelle Burns, formerly principal at Kensington Urban Education Academy, won a ruling reinstating her as a district principal. Arbitrator Ralph Colflesh said the District is to provide back pay less wages from a 60-day suspension.

Burns was principal of Tilden Middle School, where there was evidence of cheating in 2009 and 2010.

Marla Travis-Curtis, formerly principal of Lamberton Elementary School, won a ruling that could return her to the District, but demote her to assistant principal.

Arbitrator Alan Symonette ordered the district to provide Travis-Curtis back-pay at an assistant principal rate less a 30-day suspension.

Both Burns and Travis-Curtis are also to receive compensation for any money they spent on benefits due to their termination.

"At this time, the school district is reviewing all its legal options in response to the arbitration findings," wrote district spokesman Fernando Gallard in a statement.

The Philadelphia School District terminated Burns and Travis-Curtis in January 2014, along with Deidre Bennett.

Bennett, formerly principal of Cassidy Elementary, lost her bid to be reinstated through arbitration. Bennett was on the staff at Huey Elementary from 2009-11, three years where there was evidence of cheating.

The rulings were made by arbitrators and agreed to by the School District of Philadelphia and the Commonwealth Association of School Administrators (CASA).

The rulings for Burns and Travis-Curtis were made last week. Bennett’s decision was made earlier in the summer.

None of the three could be reached for comment.

‘In limbo’

It remains unclear in what schools Burns and Travis-Curtis could be reinstated. CASA president Robert McGrogan said the union and the District still needed to hash out the details.

"We’re really in limbo stage at this point, where no final outcomes have been determined," said McGrogan.

Travis-Curtis’ potential reassignment is especially complex, McGrogan said, based on the arbitrator’s decision to demote her to assistant principal.

McGrogan confirmed that CASA would not appeal the decision upholding Bennett’s termination.

Neither the District nor CASA would comment on the specific cases, nor would they release copies of the arbitration documents.

Read the rest of this story at NewsWorks

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