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I-Team: Whistleblower claims Fort Worth ISD 'exploited' students to earn state bonus funding

I-Team: Fort Worth ISD teacher accuses district of exploiting students
I-Team: Fort Worth ISD teacher accuses district of exploiting students 06:40

FORT WORTH (CBSDFW.COM) — A Fort Worth high school teacher is accusing his school district of exploiting students to meet new state education standards tied to bonus funding.

Tuesday night, Bart Scott, an engineering teacher at Young Men's Leadership Academy, took his concerns to the school board after he said the district dismissed his formal grievance without due process.  

"This district is trying to silence me," Scott told board member in the public meeting.

The engineer teacher concerns involve the district's use of the OSHA 30 certification course – a 30-hour online workplace safety course.

In formal complaints filed with the school district, the Texas Education Agency (TEA), and the Tarrant County District Attorney's Office, Scott wrote the OSHA 30 certification course was pushed on students for the primary purpose of financial gain for the district.

"To me it's like child labor," Scott told the CBS 11 I-Team. "You hid the intent of the program from both parents, students, and teachers.  You forced them to do something that was not beneficial for them."

Bart Scott, FWISD whistleblower.

The CBS 11 I-Team spoke with other former Fort Worth ISD teachers and a fired district consultant who too were troubled about the district's use of the OSHA 30 program.

Fort Worth ISD district officials told the CBS 11 I-Team any suggestion that the district choose career certification courses based on state funding bonuses is false.

"Certainly, that's not the reason why we did it and if that perception exists, we have to work through our teachers to make sure they understand that," said Fort Worth ISD Chief of Innovation Officer David Saenz.

As part of the 2019 school finance bill, Texas started awarding school districts bonus money through the College, Career, and Military Readiness Program (CCMR).

In the latest round of CCMR bonuses, Fort Worth ISD earned $2.6 million.

The CCMR bonuses are based on test scores as well as whether students enroll in college, join the military, or earn a career certification.

On the state's 2019 list of approved CCMR career certifications was the OSHA 30 program.  The safety program, which is often required for construction supervisors, was recommended for students on career pathways of construction and agriculture. 

However, Fort Worth ISD also gave the OSHA 30 course to students on career pathways of engineering and health science even though the TEA had a long list of other certification programs better suited for those careers.

Fort Worth ISD officials told the CBS 11 I-Team the OSHA 30 certification course was offered to students outside the aligned career pathways as a "flexible option for students during the 20-21 and 21-22 school year – a time when students were experiencing or recovering from disruptions to their class time due to the COVID pandemic."

"I felt like it was a huge waste of time," said Tina Vasquez, a former Fort Worth ISD robotics teacher. 

With less than two months left in the spring 2021 semester, Vasquez said the district told her all her senior students needed to take the OSHA 30 course.  As a result of spending the final two months of the school year doing the online training, Vasquez said most of her students never finished their four-year capstone projects.

"It was very hard to explain to some students why they had to take this OSHA 30 course, especially the ones who had put so much time into their project," she said.

Scott said he believes the district pushed teachers to give the OSHA 30 program because it's easier to pass than other career certification programs; and the more students who pass, the more bonus money the school district could qualify for.

In his formal complaint to the district, Scott asked the district to stop giving the OSHA 30 certification course to students whose career pathways do not align with the program according to the TEA's industry-based certification list.  He also asked the district to compensate former students who took the course – paying them for the time they spent taking the course.

In the past two years, nearly 250 Fort Worth ISD students took the 30-hour OSHA training.

Along with Scott, a former grant consultant hired by Fort Worth ISD also filed a formal complaint with the TEA which included concerns about the district's use of the OSHA 30 certification program.

"I noticed right off that some of the programs really didn't align," said Lutitia Fields, who was hired by the district in May as a grant consultant for the career programs. 

Fields said when she raised concerns about the use of the OSHA 30 program, she was ignored and then had her year-long contract cut down to two months.

Fort Worth ISD, per district policy, does not comment on personnel matters.

In her final report to the district, Fields wrote, "I see the students being treated as a cash cow instead of placing priority on their success and futures."

Saenz, who manages the college and career readiness department for Fort Worth ISD, said the district chooses career certification programs based on what local business leaders tell them would give their students an upper hand in getting a job after graduation. 

David Saenz, FWISD Officer of Innovation.

The district said it will evaluate the relevance of such decisions with our community of teachers, campus administrators, TEA, and business leaders but at no time was the CCMR bonus a factor in having students take the OSHA 30 course.

"If our students do well and if we get bonus funds - and TEA permits it and the state legislature has said it's an important thing to do –  then, yes, we can use those funds because these are expensive programs," Saenz said. "But that is not the reason we offer certain certifications."

Starting in 2024, the TEA will no longer accept the OSHA 30 certification as part of its CCMR bonus program.  Education officials said it the certification does not meet the state's definition of a career certification.

TEA officials told the CBS 11 I-Team decisions about what career certification programs are offered to students are left to local school districts.

State officials said Scott's and Field's formal complaints are currently under review.

Last year, the OSHA 30 certification program was given to students at nearly 200 school districts in Texas, according to the TEA.

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