The Iowa Board of Education Examiners has dismissed multiple charges of fraud against two Keokuk educators. The allegations were related to online graduate school courses completed by one of the teachers several years ago.
Wills started taking online graduate school classes through Hannibal-LaGrange University in May 2015. She completed the master’s degree program in education one year later. The advanced degree meant a salary increase for Wills at KMS.
Wills is still employed by the District. Slusher retired last year.
The final report from the Iowa BOEE states that on May 27, 2016, Wills told her then-principal, Brad McCloskey, that a former school employee, Amy Davis, had hacked into her email account and was harassing her. Davis claimed that Wills cheated by having Slusher complete some of her graduate school coursework.
McCloskey and then-Superintendent Tim Hood initiated an investigation, which included the review of hundreds of emails between Slusher and Wills related to the graduate school program.
Wills and Slusher were called to a meeting in early August 2016, during which they appeared with legal counsel. Also in the meeting were McCloskey, Hood, and the district’s legal counsel.
The teachers were offered the chance to resign over “concerns regarding the emails and the appearance of cheating.” They declined and were placed on paid leave roughly one week later.
The investigation was eventually handed over to Hood, who recommended the Keokuk School Board fire Wills and Slusher. The board instead suspended each 30 days without pay. The following month, Hood and McCloskey contacted the BOEE.
Wills and Slusher testified before an administrative law judge during a hearing June 13-14, 2018. They said that Wills would write out her homework and Slusher would type it up for her, describing herself as a proficient typist.
Slusher would then email the typed document to Wills. They said Slusher eventually started offering feedback on grammar and structure and helped Wills track her weekly assignments.
But they both denied that Slusher wrote any of Wills’ papers.
The head of the graduate online programs at Hannibal-LaGrange University testified that she was aware that Slusher was assisting Wills, adding that “obtaining assistance with formatting, grammar, punctuation, or technology is not considered a violation of the University’s academic integrity policy.”
Judge Emily Kimes-Schwiesow said that while the emails, “when read in isolation, raise serious concerns regarding Slusher’s role,” they did not tell the entire story.
Judge Kimes-Schwiesow said it’s unlikely that Wills would have been so open with the head of the graduate school program about Slusher’s assistance or would have come forward with the accusations of cheating from a former colleague if she had in fact been cheating.
“When the record is reviewed as a whole, it is not evident that Slusher actually produced original content for Wills,” wrote Judge Kimes Schwiesow. “As a result, the preponderance of the evidence does not establish that Slusher and Wills committed fraud by knowingly providing false information or representations in connection with the discharge of their duties.”
The lack of fraud was eventually used to aid in the dismissal of the other charges against the two.