LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Jefferson County Public Schools has a "long history" of having non-certified staff members teach and supervise students and has violated state law by doing so, according to results of an investigation by the Kentucky Office of Education Accountability. 

And in at least one instance over the past three years, a woman hired to teach middle school students at the Academy @ Shawnee and was later fired for having an inappropriate relationship with a student "never received proper certification" with OEA saying Conner Loew should not have been teaching or supervising students on her own.

The investigation and findings, obtained by WDRB News through an open records request, OEA said the practice of "non-certified staff teach and supervise students during the instructional day...is systemic within the schools of the district." It adds that the practice was "in existence prior to and at the time" former Superintendent Donna Hargens came to the district.

The final report from David Wickersham, the director of OEA, states Hargens failed to ensure appropriate certifications had been filed or registered with the district and said that “broad-based training is needed to resolve this issue,” adding that Acting Superintendent Marty Pollio, all assistant superintendents, all human resource personnel and each of the district’s 155 school principals must participate in the training by Oct. 15.

Sue Foster, president of AFSCME Local 4011, agrees the issue is a widespread problem and that JCPS has been aware of it for many years. She added she's hopeful under the new leadership of Pollio, things will change.

"The Instructor III position is a classified position in JCPS and as such, does not require a teaching certificate," Wickersham wrote. "However, the investigation revealed...that individuals employed in the Instructor III job classification are routinely assigned to supervise and teach students during the instructional day without the presence of a certified teacher in the classroom."

Wickersham added: "Instructor III personnel at Noe Middle School and Johnson Middle School are assigned to in-school suspension classrooms, computer lab classes, proficiency at work classes, life skills classes, leadership classes and graphic arts classes."

"Additionally, Instructor III personnel are sometimes used as substitute teachers in the schools in which they are employed," the report states, adding that the educational requirement for the position allows an Instructor III to be a substitute teacher. "Interviewees advised that on days they operated as a substitute teacher, they were still compensated at the Instructor III level."

According to the report, Tiffeny Armour, the district's human resources director, said Instructor III staff have a "high level of education and are able to have a classroom of students." She added they do not "create lesson plans or give grades."

"Interviewees provided information contradicting to this statement...several advised they access Infinite Campus and enter their students' grades utilizing the teacher of record's IC code and that it has always been that way," the report states, adding that Armour sent memos to employees about the use of non-certified staff and what they are allowed to do.

"The end result of these memoranda is the approval of non-certified personnel working as if they are appropriately certified teachers in the Jefferson County School District," the report concludes.

In a response letter to Wickersham, Pollio says JCPS is "committed to implementing a corrective action plan and ensuring compliance" with state laws and regulations, which require that only a certified teacher can teach and supervise students during the instructional day.

"Our district appreciates and values your input and we are fully committed to providing all students with high-quality learning opportunities through instruction that is delivered by appropriately credentialed professionals," Pollio wrote.

He acknowledged "there may have been limited instances of schools utilizing non certified staff to instruct and supervise students during the instructional day" and that JCPS understands that "our classified instructors should not be involved in the delivery of instruction without the direct supervision of a certified teacher."

"I do not believe this issue is widespread or systemic, but our district is committed to implementing a corrective action plan and ensuring compliance with this requirement," Pollio said. "As allowable under Kentucky law, JCPS will continue appropriately utilizing non-certified staff. This includes using instructors and instructional assistants to supervise and monitor students during non-instructional periods."

"This is not something new that's just happened," Foster told WDRB News on Wednesday. "The way they've been getting around it is assigning them with a collaboration teacher but the problem we have is a lot of times they never meet with those collaboration teachers. They're expected to come up with lesson plans, they're expected to input grades." 

"They're basically doing the work of a certified teacher without a certification and also without receiving the pay of a certified teacher," Foster said. "It's a (cost) savings to the school but at the same time, its working employees out of their job descriptions."

Foster says she thinks many parents would be surprised to learn that the person teaching and supervising their child may not be certified. She encourages anyone who has a question to check with the state.

In the case of Connor Loew, the woman hired to teach Spanish and Humanities at Shawnee during the 2014-15 year, she was supposed to complete the Kentucky Internship Program that year, but failed to pass the required PRAXIS test to qualify, according to the OEA report.

Additionally, school officials listed two certified teachers as additional teachers “with Ms. Loew” for the eight classes she taught during the 2014-15 year, but according to interviews with the two teachers, they did not co-teach with her. Indeed, one of those teachers, Yanay Feria, told investigators she was “unaware how her name was placed” on a report listing her as an additional teacher for those classes.

Feria and Paul White, the other teacher listed on the report, both told investigators that Loew taught all eight classes to which she was assigned "without the assistance of Ms. Feria and Mr. White," the report states.

Wikersham says the investigation found insufficient evidence that “JCPS willfully falsified information” but that Hargens and her designees violated KRS 161.020 by allowed Loew to perform the duties of a certified teacher at Shawnee when she did not possess the appropriate teaching certificate to perform those duties.”

In response to a preliminary OEA investigative report regarding Loew, Hargens said when the personnel notification report comes to the superintendent and then to the board that a teacher has been hired, "both the superintendent and the board believe that the correct certification is on file." 

"There was no indication of, or any knowledge of anything to the contrary," Hargens wrote. "I assure you that it would have been dealt with immediately."

Hargens added "it is accurate to state that...Loew performed the duties of a certified teacher at Shawnee and did not possess the appropriate certification to perform those duties."

"It is not clear who, if anyone, had knowledge of that fact and still 'allowed' her to do so," Hargens said. "I did not."

Foster, the union president, says that Hargens and others in central office knew this was a problem.

And it's a problem has continued into the 2016-17 year. While WDRB was at the union hall talking to Foster on Wednesday, another complaint came in from an instructor who questioned whether they should be writing a lesson plan.

"We see some who won’t complain out of fear," she said. "They're afraid of retaliation or losing their job that they need to support their families."

But that won't stop Foster from trying to get to the bottom of it. She emailed Pollio this week to set up a meeting.

"I believe this (OEA) document right here is going to solve the issue," she said, adding she doesn't fault him. "He's got a lot of things from the past that are going to have to be cleaned up." 

Reporter Antoinette Konz covers K-12 education for WDRB News. She can be reached at 502-585-0838 or @tkonz on Twitter.

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