TAMPA, Fla. — The Florida Department of Law Enforcement arrested three former Hudson High School teachers and charged them with an organized scheme to defraud.
This was the result of a yearlong investigation into a fraudulent testing scam involving certification exams for Agriculture Education Services and Technology, or AEST.
During a news conference Friday afternoon, FDLE Tampa Bay Special Agent in Charge Mark Brutnell said the three teachers allegedly took their administrator exams together, recorded test questions and prepared study guides for students. The study guides were said to be exact copies of the certification exams.
As a result, their students completed the tests in less than half the time of other students, and they had much higher pass rates.
Robert Herrington, Kathleen Troutman, and Harold Martin III are accused of recruiting students to help produce study guides that were allowed to be used while taking the tests. In addition, FDLE authorities say the teachers provided students with answers during the exams and in some cases, took the tests for students, including those in Exceptional Student Education (ESE), sometimes without their knowledge.
Authorities added that test proctors were never used.
A photo of Troutman was not immediately available.
“Plain and simple what this was, was a cheating scandal, greed and cheating at the most barest level, and the fact that these ESE students were involved in that just really personally offends me," Brutnell said during a news conference.
As part of the AEST program, teachers are paid a bonus of $25 to $50 for each passed test taken by their students. In total, the scheme spanned over four years, resulting in the loss of more than $708,000, including $36,725 paid in teacher bonuses, FDLE said. According to authorities, AEST says they are invalidating more than 1,000 certification exams from HHS.
“We are extremely disappointed in these teachers who were placed in a position of trust, and repeatedly chose to violate that trust,” Pasco Superintendent of Schools Kurt Browning said in a statement.
“They took advantage of students for personal gain. That kind of behavior is shocking to teachers everywhere who sacrifice for their students every day.”
Over the past year, the Pasco County School District said it has worked with AEST and the state to put additional safeguards in place to ensure testing is secure, including increased testing and security protocols and a multi-panel review of all testing data.
The school district will also work with AEST and the Florida Department of Education to ensure that any funds that must be returned will be returned in full.
In August 2021, the Pasco County Schools district confirmed several teachers were under investigation by the FDLE. Those teachers had been under investigation since April 2021, FDLE said at the time.
The FDLE did not go into details then, but said its investigation revolved around "alleged fraudulent activity associated with [the teachers'] work."
Both Herrington and Martin were booked into the Pasco County jail and later released on bond. Troutman was booked into the Jackson County Detention Center.