Debate Magazine

8 Sentenced to Jail in Atlanta School Cheating Case

By Eowyn @DrEowyn

atlanta teachers

Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Three former top administrators were given maximum 20-year sentences Tuesday in the Atlanta school cheating case, with seven years to be served in prison, 13 on probation and fines of $25,000 to be paid by each.

Five lower-ranking educators — those who worked as principals, teachers and testing coordinators — received sentences of up to five years with at least one-year in prison and hefty fines ranging from $1,000 to $5,000. All the defendants were granted first-offender status, meaning their record would be wiped clean after they served their time.

Judge Jerry Baxter

Judge Jerry Baxter

Judge Jerry Baxter gave one final warning to educators Monday that they would face stiff punishment unless they admitted to guilt and waived their right to appeal. He delivered on that promise Tuesday, dolling out punishments to administrators Tamara Cotman, Sharon Davis-Williams and Michael Pitts that elicited gasps and sobs from spectators in the courtroom.

“Everyone starts crying about these educators. There were thousands of children harmed in this thing. This is not a victimless crime,” Baxter said.

Only two of the 10 convicted educators, Donald Bullock and Pamela Cleveland, chose to admit guilt and waive the right to appeal. They did not receive prison time. An 11th convicted educator, Shani Robinson, recently had a baby and is due in court for sentencing in August.

Baxter voiced frustration that more defendants weren’t willing to accept the deal and admit to what they had done. Davis-Williams and two other former administrators were given seven years in prison, 13 years probation, 2,000 hours of community service and a $25,000 fine.

“Yesterday I said to everyone, this is the time to search your soul and we could end this and the punishment wouldn’t be so severe. It was just taking responsibility, and no one is taking responsibility that I can see,” Baxter said. “I was going to give everyone one more chance, but no one took it. All I want for many of these people is to just take some responsibility, but they refuse. They refuse.” Baxter granted the educators bond while they evaluate whether to appeal the ruling, and several indicated they will do so.

A jury of six men and six women on April 1 convicted 11 of the 12 of racketeering in the landmark cheating case. Retired special education teacher Dessa Curb was acquitted.

The guilty Atlanta educators were facing unprecedented prison sentences of five to 20 years because of the RICO charges against them. The Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act was initially used by prosecutors to put away gangsters involved in organized crimes such as extortion and murder. In a novel use of the law, it’s being for educators conspiring to inflate student scores on the state’s Criterion-Referenced Competency Test to keep jobs and earn bonuses.

A summary of the test cheating scandal: “A special state investigator’s report found organized and systematic cheating in Atlanta to boost test scores, and it named 178 educators, including 38 principals, who were said to have taken part.” The AJC has full coverage here.

A summary of the Atlanta school test cheating trial (read more here):

The Atlanta Public Schools cheating trial, in which 12 defendants stand accused of engaging in a racketeering conspiracy to inflate test scores, began on Aug. 11, 2014, with a jury-selection process that lasted for six weeks. The prosecution called its final witness on Feb. 11, 2015, exactly six months after the start of jury selection. Former APS Superintendent Beverly Hall — widely accused of orchestrating the alleged cheating conspiracy but unable to stand trial because of breast cancer — died on March 2, six days after the last witness testified.”

Read about the convictions and those who would not take responsibility for their actions here.


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