Atlanta school teachers convicted of racketeering

Sentences handed down for educators’ roles in standardised test cheating scandal

Donald Bullock, a former testing coordinator with Atlanta Public Schools, is led to a holding cell after the verdict that found him and 10 others guilty of racketeering. Photograph: Kent D Johnson/Pool via The New York Times)

Donald Bullock, a former testing coordinator with Atlanta Public Schools, is led to a holding cell after the verdict that found him and 10 others guilty of racketeering. Photograph: Kent D Johnson/Pool via The New York Times)

 

In what has been described as the largest cheating scandal in America’s history, a jury on Wednesday convicted 11 educators for their roles in a standardised test cheating scandal.

The incident tarnished a major school district’s reputation and raised broader questions about the role of high-stakes testing in American schools.

On their eighth day of deliberations, the jurors convicted 11 of the 12 defendants of racketeering, a felony that carries up to 20 years in prison.

Many of the defendants – a mixture of Atlanta public school teachers, testing coordinators and administrators – were also convicted of other charges, such as making false statements, that could add years to their sentences.

Judge Jerry W Baxter of Fulton County Superior Court ordered most of the educators jailed immediately, and they were led from the courtroom in handcuffs. Baxter, who presided over a trial that began with opening statements more than six months ago, will begin sentencing hearings next week.

“Our entire effort in this case was simply to get our community to stop and take a look at our educational system,” District Attorney Paul L Howard Jr. said. “I think because of the decision of this jury today that people will stop. I think people will stop, and they will make an assessment of our educational system.”

The dozen educators who stood trial, including five teachers and a principal, were indicted in 2013 after years of questions about how Atlanta students had substantially improved their scores on the Criterion-Referenced Competency Test, a standardized examination given throughout Georgia.

But a Fulton County grand jury accused her and 34 other district employees of being complicit in the cheating. Twenty-one of the educators reached plea agreements; two defendants, including Superintendent Beverly L Hall, died before they could stand trial.

But 12 defendants chose to go before a jury. Testimony did not conclude until the end of February, and jurors began their deliberations on March 19th. It was a gamble.

Baxter warned during a plea hearing in 2014 that there would be “severe consequences” for any defendant who was convicted at trial. The gamble paid off for a single defendant, Dessa Curb, a former elementary school teacher who was acquitted on Wednesday.

“I’m thankful to God that it turned out well for me, but I’m very upset about the others,” Curb said outside the courtroom.

Defence lawyers, some of whom were clearly angered by Baxter’s decision to jail the educators on Wednesday, immediately began planning appeals.

(New York Times Service)