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Award-winning teacher at center of El Molino probe

  • 10/5/08: B11: El Molino High biotechnology teacher Joan Vreeburg gives students directions during a recent class.

    PC: El Molino High School Biotechnology teacher Joan Vreeburg gives students directions on the "Pipetting Secret Code" lab, Wednesday September 24, 2008.

An award-winning biology teacher remains on paid administrative leave from El Molino High School four months after an investigation into a cheating incident that pushed the four-time California Distinguished School into federal sanctions.

Joan Vreeburg, a teacher at the Forestville campus for 29 years and the 2010 winner of the Outstanding Biology Teacher award by the California Chapter of the National Association of Biology Teachers, has been on paid leave since May in connection with the probe into cheating on the Standardized Testing and Reporting program test last spring.

She is accused of providing students with actual questions from the biology portion of the 2011 California Standards Test while telling students — and later administrators — that they were sanctioned review questions.

District officials declined to name the teacher involved in the investigation or give details about any disciplinary action, citing privacy rules related to personnel issues. But sources close to the investigation confirmed that Vreeburg is the instructor involved in the incident.

West County Superintendent Keller McDonald said a teacher was placed on administrative leave in the wake of the investigation. She then requested and was granted a paid leave of absence for the 2011-12 school year, which runs from July 1 to June 30.

McDonald would not say whether the teacher will return to campus or any other district position for the 2012-13 school year, calling it "an ongoing personnel matter."

In addition, the teacher received "what the district believes is appropriate disciplinary action," which he would not describe, citing confidentiality restrictions.

The incident wiped crucial scores from the school's books and El Molino entered Year 1 Program Improvement sanctions laid out in the federal No Child Left Behind law. The school also did not meet at least one academic target in the tests given last spring, a failure that also would have put the school into federal penalties.

The investigation was conducted by the district and submitted to the California Department of Education. It determined that both inappropriate test preparation and a security breach occurred during the administration of the biology test, affecting 118 students at El Molino.

On April 20, following the biology portion of the California Standards Test at the school, a student told Principal Doria Trombetta that she thought about 75 percent of the questions in the official test were the same questions included on a practice exam provided by the teacher.

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