Class Action

by R. Reese Fuller

An ESA student was dismissed last year for cheating.
Now she and her family are suing the school.

On April 28, 2004, Katherine Glod was dismissed from the Episcopal School of Acadiana in Cade after she admitted to cheating in her high school western civilization class. Now, she and her parents ' Dr. Walter Glod and Charla Gail Glod ' are suing the school, seeking $50,000 in damages and the removal of an "F" for the class from her transcript. In their lawsuit, the Glods contend that cheating in this particular class was widespread and that the teacher's refusal to adhere to "sound educational policies" constitutes a breach of contract.

Charla Gail says her daughter was treated unfairly by ESA. "I've never heard of someone being accused of something and then never having anything to say whatsoever in the matter," she says. Katherine Glod did not return repeated calls for comment.

According to Charla Gail, and the language in the lawsuit, ESA's administrative culture fostered an environment that made cheating by students inevitable. ESA teacher Dr. Arthur White reportedly administered the same tests year after year to students in his western civilization classes. The lawsuit contends that students circulated the tests amongst themselves. "This has been going on for 15 years," says Charla Gail, "and we had several past graduates who said, 'Yeah, we did it.' They all did it."

In the syllabus for the class, White wrote: "It is NEVER permitted to study from a test given in a previous year, or any other copy of any past or present version of the test, no matter how it was obtained." The teacher warned that doing so constituted a violation of one of the school's unique elements ' the Honor Code.

Students at ESA are expected to live by the school's code of honor, which states in part, "As a member of Episcopal School of Acadiana, I pledge I will not lie, cheat, or steal, or withhold information concerning those who do." The code defines cheating as "giving or receiving any unauthorized information on any quiz, test, examination or other written work." This code of conduct is upheld by the school's Honor Council, which consists of nine students as well as the school's dean of students and two appointed faculty members.

If a student is suspected of lying, cheating, or stealing, he or she can be called before the Honor Council. While the parents of the student are notified of the hearing, they are not allowed to attend; instead, a faculty advisor accompanies the student. If found guilty of violating the code, the disciplinary action for a student can range from "honor probation to permanent separation from the school." The code also states that "honor offenses and consequences do not appear on the student's transcript." The headmaster does not participate in Honor Council proceedings, but has the authority to reverse Honor Council decisions.

Hiram Goza had been the headmaster of the school for more than a decade. In an April 30, 2004, nine-page letter to the parents of ESA students, Goza announced that some students had been "separated from ESA" for cheating and outlined the school's code and process for appearing before the council.

In another letter just days later, then-Board of Trustees Chair Renée Durio wrote that the board had voted to uphold the council's decision, but added that the board would also review the current honor system and conduct code. In the same letter, Durio announced, "We have decided not to extend Headmaster Hiram Goza's contract beyond its last year, ending July 1, 2005." ("Hiram Goza 'dismissed' in wake of ESA cheating scandal," May 12, 2004.)

"Hiram was fired," says Charla Gail Glod. She says ESA denied that the cheating investigation played a role in not renewing Goza's contract, but says the timing of the board's announcement proves otherwise. Goza did not return calls for comment.

In their lawsuit filed last week in 16th Judicial District Court in St. Martinville, the Glods sued ESA, the school's board of trustees, Lynn Blevins (the interim headmistress), Jon Berthelot (the dean of students), and the Episcopal Diocese of Western Louisiana. Goza and White are not named as defendants.

The lawsuit states: "... using the old tests was such a common and widespread practice that it appeared to Ms. [Katherine] Glod that Juniors who avoided any use of the old tests were a distinct minority." The suit also contends, "By his refusal to follow sound testing protocols, Dr. White virtually invited students to cheat, while at the same time reminding them to be faithful to the Honor Code. All of the responsibility fell upon the students to avoid the temptations which literally were placed in their hands."

When allegations of cheating surfaced, Glod was called before the Honor Council. In the suit, the Glods admit that Katherine initially denied any involvement or knowledge about cheating. She later confessed to Berthelot that she had lied in her initial Honor Council testimony. The lawsuit says, "Ms. Glod decided that it would be better to do the right thing and truthfully report her honor violation." She reportedly convinced two of her friends to also tell the truth about their cheating involvement.

On the morning of April 28, Dr. Glod repeatedly tried to call Goza. Unable to reach him, he started driving to ESA when Goza called him on his cell phone. According to the suit, Dr. Glod stated to Goza: "I don't want her to get an 'F' on her transcript and I don't want her expelled. If either of those are possibilities, I will withdraw her right now." Goza's alleged response was, "You don't need to worry about it. She may receive some punishment, but it won't be bad."

Despite Goza's assurance, Katherine was dismissed from ESA later that day, along with 10 other students linked to the cheating investigation. The next day, Dr. Glod withdrew his daughter from the school to enroll her at Lafayette High School. Months later on Sept. 3, according to the suit, the Glods learned that Katherine had received an "F" from ESA in her western civilization class.

Charla Gail says the students who were dismissed from the school were singled out. "There were other kids who did the same thing, and nothing happened to them," she says. "The juniors told the truth, and they were severely punished." The lawsuit contends: "A substantial number of Juniors who were initially untruthful did not later report themselves or otherwise admit their use of old tests, and continue to attend ESA today."

Greg Guidry of Onebane Law Firm, speaking on behalf of both Blevins and Joanie Hill, the chair of the board's trustees, says, "We will be defending ESA and the board in this suit, but we're not going to make any comment about pending litigation at this time." Attorney John G. McLure, who represents the Episcopal Diocese of Western Louisiana, also refused comment, saying that he had not yet seen the lawsuit.

Katherine Glod, now 18 years old, is taking classes at Lafayette High to get her high school diploma. Her mother worries that the ESA incident could affect her daughter's collegiate aspirations and professional career. "For us it's almost too late," she says. "The transcripts [for applying to colleges] were due on Jan. 15."

For Charla Gail, the lawsuit boils down to one issue. "All we want is the 'F' off of her transcript," she says. "That's all we've ever wanted."