Miami-Dade schools probes cheating allegations at district-run charter

Miami-Dade schools police are investigating cheating allegations at a district-managed charter school overseen by a former senior district official.

The probe of the Academy for International Education Charter School, a K-8 center inMiami Springs, was launched in response to a July 5 letter from retired teacher Anna Harris to state and district officials.

Harris wrote that school administrators had teachers change students’ grades to boost their grade point averages. She also wrote that a lead teacher serving as an acting assistant principal “prompted students to review and change answers during the 2012 and 2013 FCAT testing examinations.”

“The children’s education is being compromised at this school,” Harris said in an interview. “And it’s illegal to change grades.”

Harris told The Miami Herald she didn’t directly witness cheating.

Lisette Tuckler, the third-grade teacher whom Harris said confided in her, denied having the conversation.

“There was no such thing as students’ grades being changed. The FCAT was administered the way it should be administered. There’s nothing that was corrupted in the system,” Tuckler said Thursday. “AIE is a good school.”

The school opened two years ago as the state’s first district-run charter. It has campuses, in Miami Springs and South Miami, and according to the district’s website serves about 300 students. Harris alleges that cheating occurred at the Miami Springs campus , 1080 La Baron Dr.

The school is overseen by Principal Vera Hirsh, a former assistant superintendent for the Miami-Dade school district.

On Thursday, Hirsh said she welcomed investigators and hoped their probe proceeded “with alacrity.”

“I can emphatically and categorically say that it is absolutely not true,” she said. “We will be vindicated. There’s not one ounce of truth to what she’s saying.”

Harris also sent her letter to Miami-Dade School Board members, who this week broached the issue with Superintendent Alberto Carvalho. He said the district probably receives a half-dozen letters each summer alleging similar abuses at charter schools, and each is investigated and taken seriously.

But he cautioned against taking allegations as fact and said judgment should be reserved until after the conclusion of a schools police probe.

“Until the results come back, we maintain silence,” he said.

Harris said she was a Miami-Dade teacher for 23 years and resigned from her post as a sixth- and seventh-grade reading teacher at AIE Charter in March. She said she asked for the investigation because she doesn’t think teachers who witnessed the cheating will talk unless they are compelled to.

“They’re petrified,” she said.