Firings loom at Whittell High
Whittell High School secretaries Terri Zager and Kandee Worley face termination for allegedly tampering with students’ grades.
Zager maintains her innocence, pointing to lax computer security at the school.
“I have worked for the school district for four years and during those four years, I’ve done the best I could on behalf of all of the kids,” Zager said Wednesday. “As far as I know, I have done nothing wrong.”
Worley was not available Wednesday for comment.
The Douglas County School District has confirmed 21 cases in which grades were changed. Superintendent Pendery Clark said investigations produced adequate evidence against Zager and Worley.
“Both (Terri) and Kandee have received letters of termination and as for the investigation, we turned over everything we had to (the Sheriff’s Department),” Clark said. “I believe they’re taking it seriously and we feel confident they’ll do a complete investigation. In our investigation, we certainly have sufficient evidence to terminate both employees.”
The Douglas County Sheriff’s Department received information about the case last month, Sgt. Tim Minister said.
“We received notice from the district attorney’s office asking us to conduct an investigation on Aug. 22, which is the first date we were requested to do anything,” Minister said. “We are just in the initial stages of the investigation.”
Zager said she has not been informed of any concrete evidence against her.
She met with the district June 11 but did not hear from officials again until Aug. 15 when she received a letter announcing the district’s intent to fire her.
“The reason she didn’t meet with the district until after June was because her attorney requested that it be delayed,” Clark said. “But she did receive a letter requesting she meet with the district.”
Zager’s attorney, Loren Graham, said he still hasn’t met with the district because of conflicting schedules with district personnel.
“I just want to make it clear that Terri Zager has cooperated fully in the investigation,” Graham said. “She has been interviewed by the district two times without counsel. I want to put in a plug for Terri in that from what I’ve discovered, the last four years she’s dedicated herself to the students at Whittell and I haven’t found any wrongdoing that occurred.”
DCSD attorney Tom Susich said no final action against Zager and Worley has been taken by the school district.
“We’re still in the process of talking to them and trying to work something out,” he said. “There isn’t any final decision on how this is going to be handled yet. This is not final, but the position of the district is they will not return to Whittell.”
Zager said she was shocked to learn she was suspected of changing grades.
“I was very surprised and very hurt because a lot of people have said the kids really depended on Kandee and I to be nice to them,” she said. “The district wants to twist it around and say we were so nice to them we (improved) their grades, but it has been months now and there has been nothing proven, to my knowledge, that there has been anything done by me or Kandee.”
Zager said the district brought to her attention an incident in which her computer was accessed using her password, and grades were manipulated.
“What little evidence I have seen was a lot of inconsistencies,” she said. “There were things done on the computer with my password during times when I was not there. When they showed me what had been done, I was mystified. They showed me the time and date it was done and I wasn’t even there and I have absolute, documented proof of that.”
Zager names lack of policy and procedure as major culprits behind the grade mishaps at Whittell.
“I would like to make this an issue of procedure and policy,” Zager said. “I would like to turn it around and make it a positive thing. The district has neglected Whittell High School and the other lake schools for years. There is such a lack of procedure but it’s a wake-up call and things are going to get better.”
Zager said Whittell’s computer program lacks security measures. Student files often were left open, as secretaries were told not to shut their computers down when leaving their desks.
“There was no training,” she said. “I think there are a lot of users going in there and doing things they don’t know how to do because no training has been required. There have been problems with that system since the beginning. We reported there were problems. Our only mistake was that we didn’t report it to the district.”
Clark and Zager agreed computer glitches were not to blame for the grade changes. Zager said neither is she.
“I am innocent,” she said. “I did not do the things they are accusing me of doing. Provide proof because I haven’t seen any and I want to be able to respond. I don’t want to work there anymore but I did enjoy working there. I loved the kids and I miss them a lot.”
Many people called the Tahoe Daily Tribune Wednesday in support of Zager.
“I’ve known Terri for 14 years, as a friend and as an employee of the high school,” Connie Bowland said. “She is knowledgeable and fair-minded. I would have no reason to believe that she would participate in any wrongdoing.”
Barbara and Bill Lane, who attended the same church as Zager’s family, also called on her behalf.
“I’ve known Terri for 10 years and we met through our children in the school system,” Barbara Lane said. “Her character since I’ve known her is outstanding and she is a God-fearing woman.”
Bill Lane said he couldn’t believe Zager was suspected of tampering with grades.
“She’s a very dedicated worker and does whatever needs to be done for the benefit of the kids, but as helpful as she is, I don’t believe she would change grades,” he said. “I don’t think it’s in her moral fiber to do it. It’s wrong and I firmly believe she knows it’s wrong and would not do it. I consider Terri to be very responsible, as I do Kandee. I don’t think either one of the ladies are guilty. They haven’t been charged but they’ve all but been indicted by the publicity.”
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