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Another Philly principal who was fired for cheating ordered reinstated by court

Marla Travis-Curtis, the former principal of Lamberton Elementary, was improperly fired by the Philadelphia School District, three Commonwealth Court judges found. Cheating occurred at Lamberton, an arbitrator found, but Travis-Curtis was not a party to it.

Commonwealth Court has ordered another veteran principal who was snared in a cheating scandal reinstated by the Philadelphia School District.

A three-judge panel said there was no evidence that Marla Travis-Curtis, the longtime leader of Lamberton School in Overbrook Park, engaged in cheating on standardized tests, siding with an arbitrator who found that systematic cheating happened at Lamberton, but that Travis-Curtis was not a party to it.

"Although the cheating which occurred at Lamberton is abhorrent and such conduct must be rooted out, the arbitrator found only that Travis-Curtis failed to uncover the cheating and prevent it," Judge P. Kevin Brobson wrote.

Travis-Curtis was fired by the district in 2014. In 2015, the arbitrator reversed the firing but said she should be demoted to assistant principal. He also ordered that Travis-Curtis receive back pay minus a 30-day suspension.

The Commonwealth Court decision, handed down Tuesday, was the second such rebuke to the Philadelphia school system this month. On April 13, judges reversed the firing of Michelle Burns, formerly the principal of Kensington Urban Education Academy. Burns was principal of Tilden Middle School at a time when the state found cheating there.

Travis-Curtis, reached Wednesday, was elated.

"I'm relieved and delighted," she said. "It's been three years and three months, and I'm just glad it's over. I can move on with my life and go back to the community and make a difference in the lives of children."

Travis-Curtis started her career as a teacher at Bok High School. She also worked as a counselor in the district. When she was fired, she had been principal of Lamberton for 13 years. Her mother spent 40 years in the district, many of them as a principal.

Having the "black eye" of being labeled a cheat was a nightmare, said Travis-Curtis, 53, who opened child-care centers in the city during her exile.

"I just feel like I'm damaged goods," she said. "I had an excellent reputation for all those years. I just want to go back and show the public and the children that I'm honest, and I want to continue to give back."

School District officials said they were reviewing the ruling and had not yet decided whether to appeal to the state Supreme Court.

Robin Cooper, president of the district's principals' union, said she hoped the case could be resolved quickly, and that Travis-Curtis and Burns could be made whole and returned to Philadelphia schools.

"The case was so sketchy from the beginning," Cooper said. "Both principals became scapegoats. They were publicly ridiculed in the city where they grew up. We want these wrongs righted."

She said that her union was in preliminary talks with the district's legal team.

At one time, 53 district schools were under investigation for possible tampering with state tests in a Pennsylvania-wide probe. Seven city charter schools were also under investigation.

Seven principals and teachers were criminally charged, and several others were disciplined.