School Cheating Scandal Leads to Lawsuit

     JACKSON, Miss. (CN) — School district officials harassed and retaliated against a sixth grade science teacher suspected of tipping off a Mississippi newspaper to a widespread school cheating scandal, the woman claims in court.
     In a complaint filed on Tuesday, plaintiff Meosha Stuckey claims that she had nothing to do with the May 2014 Clarion-Ledger article but still faced harassment from her middle school principal that has impaired her ability to find future employment.
     Stuckey sued the Clarksdale Municipal School District in the Greenville, Mississippi federal court on Tuesday, alleging First Amendment retaliation.
     She claims the fallout began after the newspaper exposed allegations of cheating reported by fellow Oakhurst Intermediate School teachers who questioned the legitimacy of their students’ high test scores while they attended Clarksdale’s Heidelberg Elementary School.
     “When the school superintendent found out about the newspaper article, he held an emergency meeting for the entire school staff at Oakhurst and announced that everyone he thought was involved in speaking with the press would be fired,” Stuckey says in her September 13 lawsuit.
     “Plaintiff assumed she had nothing to fear because she had not said anything to the press. The next school year, 2014-2015, Oakhurst hired a new principal, and he began harassing plaintiff from the beginning,” she says.
     Stuckey claims the harassment escalated when she complained to the principal that her “high-performing honor students” were pulled from a state administered test and not allowed to complete it.
     She says poor standardized test results are “grounds for a teacher to be fired.”
     Stuckey also claims the principal encouraged her to take a semester-long FMLA leave after her son was hit in the head by a stray bullet, but reneged on his promise to allow other staff members to donate days to her when her FMLA leave ran out so that she could continue to be paid.
     The science teacher says the Superintendent of Education failed to follow up on her complaint and that her “FMLA leave information was deleted from the school records in order to cover up the principal’s lie to plaintiff about donating time for her FMLA.”
     “All of this was done in retaliation by the defendant school district because it was falsely assumed by the defendant that plaintiff had spoken to the Clarion-Ledger about an alleged cheating scandal in the school district.”
     The elementary principal accused of leading the cheating at Heidelberg Elementary School has since been removed and is now a communication coordinator for the district’s magnet school program, according to media reports. She faced a disciplinary hearing with the state’s education department in July.
     Other elementary teachers connected to the scandal lost their licenses.
     District superintendent Dennis Dupree Sr. did not return an email seeking comment Wednesday afternoon.
     Stuckey seeks compensatory damages for First Amendment retaliation and wants either back wages and reinstatement, or future wages in lieu of reinstatement.
     She is represented by Jackson attorney Louis Watson Jr. of Watson & Norris PLLC.

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