- Associated Press - Thursday, April 21, 2016

BARBOURVILLE, Ky. (AP) - The chairman of a Kentucky school board, who dropped out of high school at 17, hoped to settle the controversy raging around whether a diploma he bought online was real. So Dexter Smith signed up to take the GED exam.

Now he’s accused of cheating on the test. The Kentucky State Police allege Smith, chairman of the Knox County School Board, had another person take it for him.

The issue erupted last month, when the Mountain Advocate, the newspaper in Barbourville, Kentucky, reported that Nation High School, the online school listed on Smith’s diploma, is a “diploma mill,” unaccredited and described by the Better Business Bureau as a scam. The Federal Trade Commission and the state’s Council on Postsecondary Education have also warned consumers away from online high school scams.

Nation High School boasted in its advertisements that for $289 a person could apply for a diploma based on their “prior life experience.” A toll-free number listed for the alumni center now routes to a recording promising callers a free Caribbean cruise.

The Kentucky Department of Education requires that school board members, who receive a per diem of $75 and expenses for each meeting, have a high school diploma or a GED. Kentucky State Police Trooper Shane Jacobs said Smith signed a statement declaring he met the requirements when he ran for office three years ago.

Jacobs said the state police submitted its perjury investigation to prosecutors, who will decide whether to pursue charges.

The questions over Smith’s qualifications arose amid other turmoil in the rural Kentucky school system. The Kentucky Office of Education Accountability found that Smith, another board member and the superintendent violated the law by meddling in the day-to-day operation of schools. Smith told the media he only did so to ensure students were getting the best possible education.

Kentucky Department of Education spokeswoman Nancy Rodriguez said the department “has an open investigation into numerous allegations regarding the Knox County Schools,” and declined to comment on their status. Terry Sebastian, spokesman for the attorney general, confirmed his office is also investigating the matter.

Then the board, including Smith, voted last month to oust the superintendent.

The Mountain Advocate reported that citizens incensed by the votes against the superintendent questioned Smith over his educational qualifications last month. In response, he posted a picture of his Nation High School diploma on Facebook. Questions piled up about its validity and Smith said he would settle the issue by getting his GED.

Jacobs said that on March 30, Smith went to the Jackson County Adult Education Center for the GED exam. But he didn’t take it.

The state police found surveillance video showing him talking with the employee, then leaving, and the employee taking the test in his name instead, Jacobs said.

He did not know how the arrangement came to be, or if there is a connection between Smith and the employee, who he declined to identify.

Larry Bryson, the attorney for Jackson County Schools, said the district started a separate investigation and the employee, who had been with the school system for more than 30 years, opted to retire. Jacobs was unsure whether that person could face criminal charges.

Smith’s lawyer, Johnny Turner, declined to comment Thursday and calls to Smith’s home went unanswered.

The school board is scheduled to meet Tuesday evening.

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