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      I-Team: School administrator hired with 'diploma mill' degree

      Birch Vocational Academy is the Providence public school district's troubled high school for special needs students.

      The school serves young people with developmental and intellectual disabilities.

      After a federal investigation revealed some students at Birch were being forced to work for pennies an hour, the district reached a settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice

      Nancy Stevenin was hired to help fix the problem. She became supervisor of Transition and Community Development in December. She is paid about $100,000 a year.

      But her hiring caused another problem.

      "This was a serious lapse in judgment and it needs to be addressed," Providence school superintendent Susan Lusi said.

      The school district's job posting for the position says "bachelor's degree mandatory." But the I-Team learned Stevenin apparently cut corners to get the job.

      An investigation revealed her bachelor's degree came from an online institution called Ashley University.

      "I have been told recently that you can call up and get a degree over the phone," Lusi said. "Obviously, that is not acceptable. We put Miss Stevenin on a corrective action plan immediately in February when we discovered that."


      University doesn't appear to have a physical address, and it isn't accredited by any of the agencies approved by the U.S. Department of Education.

      How easy is it to get a degree?

      The I-Team bought a Ph.D. over the phone for $600 in about 10 minutes. No classes necessary. No questions asked.

      Lusi sat down with the I-Team on Thursday to explain her decision to keep Stevenin on the job. She disagreed that keeping Sevenin in her job at her salary is a way of saying cheating is OK.

      "No, I don't think so at all. If cheating was OK we would not have put her on the immediate corrective action plan," Lusi said.

      Lusi said Stevenin is getting results at Birch and has an impressive resume.

      The one thing she apparently didn't have was a valid college degree, something the district says she'll be allowed to earn from an accredited school while keeping her current job and salary.

      Lusi said she does not think more discipline, such as putting Stevenin on leave or firing her, is warranted.

      "I think that would be a huge loss to the children we are most directly trying to serve. So no, I do not," Lusi said.

      Reached by phone Thursday morning, Stevenin declined to comment.