‘Whistleblower’ teacher fights firing at hearing

A Woodlawn Middle School teacher was fighting his termination Tuesday in a closed-door tenure hearing before the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board.

Nikos Maris, who taught math to gifted children at the middle school but has been on administrative leave with pay since April, said beforehand he planned to hold the hearing in public.

When the time came Tuesday night, his attorney, Winston DeCuir Sr., told the School Board his client wanted to have the hearing in private, and the room was cleared of people not directly involved with the case.

Maris filed suit in August seeking to be reinstated to his old job, claiming he is being “punished’’ for reporting alleged misuse of standardized testing in the East Baton Rouge Parish school system.

Before the hearing was closed, several witnesses were sitting in the audience, including Woodlawn Middle Principal Shelly Colvin.

Domoine Rutledge, general counsel for the school system, said the hearing was likely to last until well into the evening, perhaps even into morning.

Alejandro Perkins, an attorney with the firm Hammonds & Sills, represented the school system during the hearing.

Maris is well-known to the School Board. For the past year he has attended most board meetings and often speaks on matters before the board.

Maris’ litigation is pending before state District Judge Todd Hernandez.

Maris claimed that for four months he was given no written reason for being placed on administrative leave other than a document telling him he was under “investigation.”

On Aug. 18, two days after the lawsuit was filed, the School Board scheduled a tenure hearing.

On Aug. 26, Hernandez ruled that it was premature to move forward with the case until the tenure hearing was held.

The school system is seeking to fire Maris for “willful neglect of duty.”

Maris’ lawsuit focuses on an in-house standardized testing system called Edusoft.

Instead of waiting until the end of the year to find out how well students are mastering what appears on the state’s LEAP and iLEAP tests, Edusoft tests are given at the end of each unit.

The information is used to help teachers discover student weaknesses and teach material again if necessary.

The process is known as benchmark assessment.

Maris, who has a master’s degree and doctorate in engineering, alleges in his lawsuit the Edusoft materials and tests “were being improperly used and administered by his school, and were resulting in false and inaccurate data.’’

“Since such false and inaccurate data inflated the performance level of the students, such improper activity was a benefit to the school and the school system, and thus Dr. Maris’ complaints were not only unheeded, but he is being punished for disclosing such improprieties,’’ according to the lawsuit.

Maris contends he noticed a “disconnect’’ between the state-mandated LEAP and the Edusoft test scores, and student progress on the Edusoft test was “significantly higher’’ than on the iLEAP or LEAP tests.

He said he also observed the test and testing procedures were not being conducted according to the benchmark assessment program or rules.

As Maris began to air his complaints, school administrators “suddenly began to criticize him and began issuing numerous unfounded and erroneous written reprimands which were placed in his personnel file,’’ the lawsuit said.

School officials have yet to respond either publicly or in court papers to Maris’ allegations.

In an Aug. 25 filing, Perkins, representing the school system, came closest when he described Maris’s allegation as a “perceived” misuse of Edusoft.