June 6, 2005 – Posted at 4:49 p.m. CDT
JONESBORO -- A Region 8 schoolteacher is fighting to get her job back claiming she was wrongfully terminated. But the school she worked for says she was insubordinate.
27-year-old high school teacher Rachel Nichols was fired two weeks ago after a dispute with Valley View administrators over whether or not a student had cheated on a test.
Nichols was fired after discovering a male student in a sophomore honors world civilization class had allegedly cheated on a test. The student had allegedly used a web site found in his textbook to find out test question answers.
Nichols’ attorney Scott Emerson said, “She's handing him the test and he immediately puts it under his desk to hide it. And she says, 'What is that?' and he ends up giving it to her and she said, 'I'm not going to allow you to take this test.' And that's how this whole thing got started.”
Valley View principal Rob Lindley ordered Nichols' to retest the student, and she refused. “She was upset that the principal told her that after she had told the student that he was not going to take this test,” said Emerson, “The student can go around the teacher, undermine her respect and authority and have a principal reverse the decision she made about this test.”
Nichols was suspended briefly, but was reinstated under the condition that she test the student, and count his grade evenly with the other students.
“What she didn't do, as she had done before, as she had done with other tests, is not give him a grade,” said Emerson, “But she didn’t give any of the students in the class a grade.”
“As a result of her refusal to do those things, she was terminated,” said Donn Mixon, attorney for Valley View.
Nichols had been a teacher at the Valley View school district for four years without any incident. In fact, the school board had just voted to rehire her in February. Nichols filed a grievance, but the school says she was in the wrong.
“A thorough review was made and it was determined that the student did not cheat. This student used a study resource that was available on-line to students and the teacher was aware of that. And he was studying that before, but not during the test,” said Mixon.
“Teachers have to have, especially in this day and age, authority and respect in the classroom,” said Emerson.
Emerson says Nichols will continue to fight for her job.
“It's horrible for teachers, not only at Valley View, but for all teachers if a precedent like this is allowed to stand. It undermines all their authority in a classroom,” said Emerson.
“She will not be teaching next year at Valley View, and the school administration will be going through the necessary steps to find a replacement for her position,” said Mixon.