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Colaizzi tied to teacher's case

| Friday, Sept. 30, 2005

A Pittsburgh Public Schools board member often sought special treatment for her son and tried to help a teacher who now is suing the district over her suspension, according to a deposition from a former superintendent that was read Thursday in court.

Former Superintendent John Thompson, whom the board ousted in February, said in sworn testimony that staff members refused board member Theresa Colaizzi's frequent requests for preferential treatment for her son, now a high school student.

Colaizzi also tried to defend and intervene in disciplinary action of her long-time friend, teacher Beth Lynn Boysza, who administrators said helped Horace Mann Elementary School fourth-graders cheat on a math test in 2003, according to Thompson.

Colaizzi said she could not comment on the allegations, because she has been subpoenaed to testify in Boysza's case. She is expected to testify Monday before U.S. District Judge Terrence F. McVerry.

District officials said Boysza encouraged students to cheat by placing Post-It Notes, sometimes with instructions, next to incorrect test answers.

Boysza claims she only provided help permitted under the test's instructions.

Boysza filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the district, the school board and Thompson, claiming they unfairly suspended her without pay for four months.

The teachers union, which represented Boysza in the cheating investigation, suggested that punishment to save her job, according to the district's lawyer, Gregory Miller.

While some staff members who investigated the allegations against Boysza thought she should be fired, they believed the most severe punishment the board would approve would be a suspension because of her relationship with Colaizzi, Thompson testified in an earlier deposition.

"Some of the staff felt Mrs. Boysza would be given special treatment," he said.

Colaizzi was then part of a five-member board majority who voted as a bloc on issues, Thompson said.

While Colaizzi initially tried to intervene in Boysza's case -- believing her friend's claims that she was being punished more harshly than other teachers accused of other testing improprieties -- she changed her mind when she reviewed the evidence and felt Boysza had duped her, Miller told the jury in his opening argument earlier in the week.

Boysza testified yesterday she called Colaizzi shortly after she learned of the allegations against her, but said she did so at the principal's suggestion. The two women had been close friends for 15 years, she said.

Boysza's attorney, Adrian Roe, argued the teacher had a constitutional right to contact board members, but McVerry said he would allow testimony about it because Colaizzi's "name is all over this case."

Colaizzi, of Greenfield, is running for re-election in November.

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