Robert Moore, Zahira Torres of El Paso Times to be honored with James Madison Award for reports on school cheating scandal

AUSTIN — El Paso Times editor Robert Moore and former Times reporter Zahira Torres, who together did extensive reporting on a school test-rigging scandal, are the recipients of the 2013 James Madison Award presented by the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas.

The award is given annually to those who have demonstrated outstanding commitment to upholding the principles of the First Amendment. It will be presented Aug. 9 during the foundation’s Bernard and Audre Rapoport State Conference in Austin.

Using the Texas Public Information Act, Moore and Torres obtained thousands of documents detailing how the El Paso Independent School District superintendent created a system to prevent the test scores of underperforming students from bringing down the district’s average. Some students were even forced to drop out of school.

Former Superintendent Lorenzo Garcia pleaded guilty in the cheating scheme and is serving a federal prison sentence. The school district is now attempting to locate and reach out to students who were pushed out of schools during the test rigging.

“The El Paso Times reporting on this educational calamity provided an important public service by shining light on the actions of public officials,” said Kelley Shannon, executive director of the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas. “This is how the First Amendment enables the people to hold government accountable in our democracy.”

Since 1987, the James Madison Award has been given to journalists, attorneys, politicians, academics and vigilant citizens. Torres is now an education reporter at the Denver Post.

“Zahira and I are humbled to receive this award, particularly when we look at the list of past recipients,” Moore said. “We hope our work serves as a testament to the importance of open government laws in Texas, and as a testament to the crucial role that newspapers and other media serve every day in Texas communities.”

For FOIFT conference information go to http://www.foift.org/ or call 512-377-1575.