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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Teacher accused of helping son with WASL

The security surrounding Washington’s high-stakes test has put a Spokane kindergarten teacher in a bind.

Debra Pearson is accused of helping her seventh-grade son cheat on the Washington Assessment for Student Learning by giving him the writing prompt – the topic a student must use to write an essay.

Pearson denied the claim and said her son, who’s a special education student at Glover Middle School, took the test three days later than his peers and was told of the prompt by another student. She refused to give the district the name of the student who helped her son.

A Spokane Public Schools investigation could not determine if Pearson obtained the prompt by using her role as a district teacher and did not discipline her.

What is clear is that her son obtained a tip on the WASL writing topic, although Pearson points out that the information was only half right. The prompt asked students to write about Spokane, but some of the instructions were different, she said.

“If I was going to cheat, don’t you think I’d give my son the correct prompt?” Pearson said. She’s been teaching since 1991. She did say she helped him think about the topic.

The district reported Pearson to the state Office of Professional Practices, which is still investigating the matter and could suspend her teaching license.

“This has made me paranoid,” Pearson said.

She added that she’s not trained to give the WASL and she’s never seen the test, which is given to fourth-, seventh- and 10th-grade students.

In a written account of the incident obtained by The Spokesman-Review through a public records request, Glover special education teacher Tom Chapman wrote that Pearson’s son completed a writing portion of the test in what the teacher considered an unusually fast 50 minutes. The student’s name was not released by the district.

“His writing style was so different than what I had in his file,” the teacher said, according to the note.

When Chapman complimented him, the seventh-grader appeared uncomfortable and returned a “tough smile,” according to the note. The teacher asked if he may have taken this writing test before.

According to the note, Pearson’s son said, “I’m not supposed to tell.”

The student “explained that his mother told him he might have a question that he would need to explain a little bit about Spokane,” according to the note.

The teacher reported the concerns to an administrator. Chapman said in a note that he had three conversations with the student.

“He told me that his mom did not write an essay but did write down three details about Spokane that he could use in his essay. Basically, he explained that the two of them went over what he could write the morning of the assessment,” according to the note.

After three talks with Chapman, Pearson’s son was also interviewed by Brenda Meenach, assistant principal at Glover Middle School.

Pearson said the interviews frightened and upset her son.

“He didn’t want to go to school and asked to be home-schooled,” Pearson said.

According to investigator notes, the student told Meenach, “My mom didn’t want anybody to know that she knew about the writing prompt. She told me not to tell anybody.”

Pearson said that her son wanted to protect his friend and thought that his mother could not get into trouble by anything he said. Pearson also points out that her son didn’t volunteer any information until he was questioned by a teacher. She cited WASL administering directions, which state that teachers may not read or comment on student essays.

“I do not believe that the WASL was administered appropriately to my son because his essay was read and commented on by his teacher. As a parent, I am concerned with the assessment process at Glover Middle School,” Pearson wrote.

In writing, Pearson took exception to questions she considered as challenging her parenting skills.

“I’ve never had my professional and parenting skills questioned before,” Pearson wrote.

“Since this information was gained through my role as a parent and had no bearing on my professional role as a kindergarten teacher I continue to be confused as to the actions by Human Resources,” she wrote.

Barb Wright, Spokane Public Schools assistant superintendent of human resources, said the school is obligated to report incidents to the state that may violate a teacher’s professional code of conduct.

“We’re guided by the code of professional conduct in such matters,” Wright said.

Pearson said she has been bewildered by the unfolding events and can only wait for the state to complete its investigation, which she’s confident will clear her name.

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