The Richmond School Board and Superintendent Jason Kamras want a federal judge to throw out a set of lawsuits filed this year related to a cheating scandal at a city elementary school.
Three former George W. Carver Elementary School teachers — Betty Alexis, Stephanie Burgess and Chireda Cotman — filed complaints in federal court in July accusing Kamras and the board of defaming them and violating their due process rights. A fourth former Carver teacher, Troy Johnson, filed a similar suit in August.
The four were all teachers at Carver last year when a state investigation found a cheating ring at the school had improperly helped students on state tests. Some teachers would help students if they raised their hand or would give indications to students of whether items were correct or incorrect, among other things, according to the Virginia Department of Education report.
Responding to the initial lawsuits, the board and Kamras filed motions to dismiss the suits Monday, saying the teachers received “all of the due process to which [they were] entitled” and statements made by Kamras in the wake of the investigation “were made in conjunction with the release of the VDOE report on the Carver investigation” and “were not defamatory.”
Kamras did not specifically identify any of the teachers in public comments, the motion says, and that doesn’t meet the defamation requirement that a plaintiff “establish that the alleged defamatory statements published were ‘of or concerning her.’ ”
“Alexis is basing her defamation claim on the premise that, because she was employed at Carver and mentioned in the VDOE report through student statements, that this is sufficient to establish the ‘of and concerning’ element. It is not,” the motion reads. Similar responses were in the three other motions.
Kamras declined to comment on the suit this week.
Richard Hawkins, the Richmond-based lawyer representing all four teachers, said they would file opposing motions or amended complaints within two weeks.
“Their motions were completely expected and we oppose them and we intend to fight them,” Hawkins said.
Carver had been a National Blue Ribbon school for its strong performance on state accountability tests, but the U.S. Department of Education rescinded the school’s Blue Ribbon status because of the cheating scandal last year.
State test results from last school year show students at the Leigh Street school are drastically behind their peers in the state and Richmond region. Carver is currently the second-lowest performing elementary school in the city.