Educators deservedly are held in high regard by our society. They are trusted with the future of every community's most precious resource, and are relied upon to judge educational honesty.
So when educators are themselves suspected of cheating, the understandable response is shock and incredulity.
Such suspicion is now focused on River Ridge Elementary. But if the long-held skepticism of parents is any indication, the allegations initially focused against just one school might be far more common than officials are yet admitting.
This all started March 13, when a River Ridge teacher asked the school board to give the children of school employees first shot at limited pre-K slots.
Ordinarily, the names of all prospective pre-kindergartners go into a box for a random drawing. Children whose names are drawn are able to attend pre-k in the same school where they later will go to kindergarten; those who aren't drawn must seek private, state-funded pre-K.
The school board denied the request. The children of school system employees would have to take their chances in the random drawing like everyone else.
Or would they?
Less than two weeks later, when the drawing took place at River Ridge, educators with children in the drawing might have received an unfair advantage by folding or balling up their entries so they could be more easily selected when the principal drew the names.
Sure, it could have been a coincidence. But it certainly is suspicious - enough so that central office officials suspected, at least initially, that school staffers conspired to get the preferential treatment that the school board had rejected.
Retiring School Superintendent Tommy Price and superintendent-in-waiting Charles Nagle spent last week investigating the suspicions. They decided the probe is "inconclusive," yet still plan to redraw April 10 for every slot that went to a folded entry. Naturally, some parents whose children were selected from what they say were innocently folded entries feel such a partial redrawing is unfair.
It is possible - though under the circumstances somewhat implausible - that no collusion was involved in the original drawing. It's far more believable that the staffers who were told they couldn't get first dibs on the slots thought they'd figured out a way to rig the drawing.
There's simply too much smoke for there not to be a fire. And since News-Times reporter J. Scott Trubey's story exposed the River Ridge investigation, parents around the county are saying this isn't the first time they've been suspicious of the rate at which educators' children have been selected for the pre-K program.
School board members must not allow the probe, which seemed to pass quickly and quietly, to end here. The doubt is overwhelming, and it isn't going to just go away.
The results of every pre-K lottery in every school this year should be audited to see just how many school staffers' children made the drawing. All parents, especially those of children not drawn for the scarce public-school slots, deserve to know if their kids were treated fairly.
If subsequent investigations prove that any school system employees were involved in rigging the drawings, they should be fired. Cheating isn't tolerated from children; it absolutely must not be excused from educators.
The Columbia County News-Times ©2013. All Rights Reserved.