UPDATE: Teacher on Leave; Scandal Not Widespread
COLUMBUS, Miss. (WCBI) — The indictment of a Columbus High teacher in a test-taking scheme should not raise concerns about the credentials of the hundreds of other teachers in classrooms across the region, education experts say.
A Columbus High School special education teacher has been placed on indefinite paid administrative leave after being snared in a widespread teacher test-taking licensing scheme that prosecutors says dates back to 1995.
Darcel Gardner, 34, is free on $5,000 bond pending an Oct. 3 arraignment in federal court in Memphis. She was served mail fraud and aiding and abetting warrants Monday, according to federal court records. If convicted, she faces up to 20 years in prison and $250,000 in fines.
Gardner was placed on leave today pending the outcome of the federal charges.
The indictment alleges that in April 2009, Gardner paid Clarence Mumford Sr. of Memphis $1,000 to have someone take her Praxis biology licensing test on April 25,2009. She mailed Mumford the money and her driver’s license on April 22, 2009, the indictment states.
As a result of getting a passing grade on the test, prosecutors claim she got her Mississippi teacher’s certification in biology in July 2011.
Veteran educators say there will be people in every profession who use bad judgement, but it shouldn’t tarnish an entire industry. With teachers, background checks and other safeguards insure safety and integrity.
“I guess any case that calls into question our professional code of conduct causes concern, but I think it’s rare, certainly rare where teachers are concerned,” said Kay Brocato, an education professor at Mississippi State University who works with prospective teachers on their credentials exams.
School districts contacted by WCBI today said they are not conducting mass reviews of teacher certification tests as a result of the recent scandal.
Gardner is listed as a special education teacher on the Columbus High School Web site. Her own Internet pages say she has been at Columbus High since January 2011 and that she taught science for the Pickens County, Alabama school district in Aliceville for 2006-2009. Her resume says she earned a master’s in counseling psychology from the University of West Alabama in 2009 and that she is studying for her doctorate via Nova Southeastern University.
Gardner and others named in the indictments which were first revealed Sept. 19 bring to 14 the number of teachers or test-takers accused of taking part in the scam. Federal authorities say Mumford, 58, a former Memphis city schools employee, charged teachers and aspiring educators thousands of dollars to find stand-ins to take state-required certification tests in Mississippi, Tennessee, and Arkansas.
The scheme was first uncovered in 2010 and prosecutors say it involves more than 50 teachers and test-takers. Mumford allegedly would make fake driver’s licenses which the bogus test-takers would show testing officials to get by identification requirements.
Earlier this month, a Memphis man pleaded guilty to taking tests as part of Mumford’s scheme since 1995.