Former MS principal who said power of prayer boosted scores, loses license for directing staff to cheat

By ZOE SZATHMARY FOR DAILYMAIL.COM

Lowanda Tyler-Jones 'violated state law by directing her staff to cheat on state assessments,' the Mississippi Department of Education said this week (May 2016 photo) An ex-elementary school principal ‘violated state law by directing her staff to cheat on state assessments,’ the Mississippi Department of Education said this week.

Lowanda Tyler-Jones was previously the principal at Heidelberg Elementary School in Clarksdale.

Mississippi’s Commission on Teacher and Administrator Education determined on Thursday that Tyler-Jones had broken the law, state officials said in a release.

They said the commission ‘made the unanimous decision to deny Tyler-Jones’ application to renew her administrator license and prohibit her from applying for any educator license for 20 years’.

Tyler-Jones had previously attributed the power of prayer to a jump in student test scores at the finish of the 2013 academic year, according to the Clarion-Ledger.

The newspaper said it published an article in 2014 about cheating allegations at the school. The state would investigate that year.

State officials said Thursday in the release: ‘The investigation into allegations of cheating at Heidelberg began in May 2014.

‘Former Heidelberg Elementary School teacher Frances Smith-Kemp was the first to be served with a complaint alleging she was involved in testing irregularities. Smith-Kemp surrendered her teaching license on July 28, 2015 for two years.

‘The Licensure Commission suspended former Heidelberg Elementary School Tetra Winters’ license on [November] 18, 2015 for five years.

‘A third teacher’s license expired while under investigation, and the teacher has not sought to renew the license.’

Lowanda Tyler-Jones was previously the principal at Heidelberg Elementary School in Clarksdale, Mississippi (pictured) 

Tyler-Jones started as the school’s principal in 2012, and got a new job in July 2016, when she was named the communications coordinator of a magnet school program in the district, according to the Associated Press.

Her administrator’s license expired in June 2016 and she had tried to have it renewed in July, it was reported.

Tyler-Jones and her lawyer skipped the Thursday hearing, the Clarion-Ledger said.

State officials said: ‘Tyler-Jones’ licensure hearing began in May 2016. The process was delayed by multiple continuances and extended questioning of witnesses by Tyler-Jones’ attorney.

‘In addition, Tyler-Jones and her attorney attempted to stop today’s hearing by attempting to unilaterally withdraw from participating and failing to appear without the Licensure Commission’s authority.’

The Clarksdale Municipal School District posted this photo on Facebook in February 2014, when Tyler-Jones was named the administrator of the year A former teacher told the commission she left her job because Tyler-Jones’ instructions made her physically ill, the Clarion-Ledger reported.

She claimed that she and a fellow teacher were instructed by Tyler-Jones to pace students and keep them on the same page.

Students were supposed to mark answers in booklets and teachers were to check them before they went on an answer sheet – and teachers who spotted incorrect answers in booklets were to tap student desks, the newspaper explained.

Tyler-Jones’ lawyer Lisa M. Ross told the Clarion-Ledger her client intends to appeal, and said that civil court is a possibility.

Ross said: ‘She has maintained from day one that she never encouraged anyone to cheat. And that no one ever told her anyone engaged in cheating.’

State officials had recommended Tyler-Jones be kept from reapplying for a license for at least a decade, but the commission deliberated and chose 20 years, the newspaper explained.

State superintendent of education Dr. Carey Wright said in a statement: ‘Because of Ms. Tyler-Jones’ actions, children in Clarksdale were deprived of the educational services they needed, and in some cases, students fell far below grade level without any intervention.

‘The Commission’s decision to bar this former educator from applying for any type of educator license for 20 years speaks volumes about the seriousness of her offense and the consequences the Commission determined.’

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