A court is stepping in to determine whether the Mississippi Department of Education has the authority to remove the license of a teacher accused of cheating.
Nearly three hours after it had already begun, Hinds Chancery Judge Dewayne Thomas suspended a hearing to revoke Frances Smith-Kemp's teaching license.
Smith-Kemp is accused of coaching and changing student's answers on state standardized tests while working at Heidelberg Elementary in Clarksdale in 2012-2013.
Preston Rideout is the teacher's attorney. He says state law prevents the department from revoking his client’s license until she's been convicted of a misdemeanor.
"This is simply, from what I understand, the first of many prosecutions the department intends to bring," says Rideout. "I have said it needs to be done right the first time so that everything that follows along behind it will have a template to follow."
The Education Department launched an investigation into cheating at Clarksdale School last year. Students who scored exceptionally well on state tests, were just a year later scoring below grade level.
It was an attorney for the Clarksdale School District that asked Judge Thomas to stay the hearing.
Tommie Cardin is representing M.D.E. He believes it's unusual for the district to intervene in this way.
"It's confusing yet telling," Cardin says. "These are serious allegations and we're serious about pursuing these allegations and we plan to persistent and bring this matter to a conclusion."
Both parties will present their case in court this afternoon at 1:30 p.m.