El Paso Principals Say They Were Punished for Not Cheating

Cheating scandals continue to crop up in the media with the latest story coming out of El Paso, Texas. Four former principals who used to head schools in the El Paso Independent School District are now charging that district officials retaliated against them and forced them out of their jobs because they refused to go along with a massive cheating scheme thought up by the district's superintendent.

The principals left their positions several months ago but maintained their silence about what they've seen — until a school board member publicly accused "disgruntled former employees" of lying about misconduct going on in the district.

The comment angered former El Paso High Principal John Roskosky enough to make him break his silence by sending an op-ed column to the El Paso Times, published in today's paper. Three other former principals agreed to share their stories after learning that their colleague had stepped forward.

Roskosky and the other three former principals said that they were subjected by unrelenting pressure to improve scores by any means necessary — both legitimate and illegitimate. They also said that being forced to resign or retire was retaliation for refusing to condone cheating on the school and district level that would have made it seem like El Paso schools were meeting federal academic standards when, in fact, they were not. One of the principals accused current school board president Isela Castañon-Williams of ignoring the information he provided to her about the scheme two years ago when she was still a board member.

Principal Steven Lane, who used to head the Jefferson High School, said that he made repeated attempts to notify the Texas Education Agency of the illegal activities going on in EPISD, and even tried to make contact with the U.S. Department of Education. It was only after all those efforts went nowhere that he alerted Castañon-Williams, who likewise did nothing.

All the principals who told their stories said that the persecution they endured was carried out at the behest of the former Superintendent of EPISD Lorenzo Garcia. During the course of the investigation into Garcia, the result of which was a guilty plea to two counts of conspiracy to commit mail fraud, Roskosky was informed by the FBI that he, along with all three of his colleagues, were on the district's "hit list" to be fired because of their refusal to cooperate.

"I think he (García) thought we probably weren't going to do things as easily as a young principal," said Villarreal, who spent three decades as an educator. He added that he retired in January 2009, denying García the satisfaction of firing him.

"Think about it. If he hires you to be his principal of a high school, who do you owe your loyalty to? It's very simple. You owe it to him."

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