11 Convicted for Cheating in Atlanta Schools

     (CN) – A jury in Atlanta has convicted 11 former educators of racketeering charges for their roles in a cheating scandal in the city’s public schools.
     In all, a dozen educators stood trial in the Fulton County Superior Court; Of those, only one, Dessa Curb, was acquitted of all charges. Several of the teachers were also convicted on theft and false statement charges.
     Fulton County Superior Court Judge Jerry Baxter immediately ordered that the 11 educators be taken to jail.
     “They have made their bed and they’re going to have to lie in it,” Baxter said, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
     The educators were indicted in March 2013, and their trial got underway last September, with prosecutors wasting little time in trying to establish a human dimension to the harm caused by what they said was a widespread and “cleverly disguised” conspiracy to fix grades and protect jobs.
     “The defendants lied, cheated and stole,” said Assistant District Attorney Fani Willis during her three-hour opening statement.
     Specifically, prosecutors accused the defendant educators of inflating scores on the Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests, a measure of how well students are meeting state-mandated standards in reading, mathematics, science and social studies.
     The defendants were accused of erasing incorrect test answers, telling children the correct answers, breaking into sealed exams before tests were administered so they could teach what was being asked, and then lying to law enforcement in order to disguise the conspiracy.
     The objective of the scheme, prosecutors said, was to create a false impression of academic success in the Atlanta Public School District. But these were far from victimless crimes, Willis told the jury — the conspiracy caused harm to students because it denied them federal dollars and resources that could be used to their benefit.
     The plot fell apart after a scathing series of articles in the Journal-Constitution led then-Gov. Sonny Perdue to order an investigation.
     The investigators concluded that Superintendent Beverly Hall and her staff “Created a culture of fear, intimidation and retaliation” in the district that went unchecked for years. By the time the shroud of secrecy was lifted, the investigators said, cheating was an accepted fact of life in dozens of Atlanta schools.
     Hall, who died on March 2, maintained to the last that she had done nothing to encourage cheating and pleaded not guilty to racketeering and other charges. Hall was deemed unfit to stand trial as she battled Stage IV breast cancer.
     Before trial got underway, 21 educators reached plea agreements and testified at the trial about the cheating they and others had engaged in.
     The trial stretched over five months during which time 162 witnesses who took the stand.
     In closing arguments last week, defense lawyers argued that because of the pleas agreements, the testimony of those educators was unreliable. But the jury was unconvinced.
     The educators are expected to be sentenced next week. Those convicted of racketeering face as much as a 20-year sentence on that charge alone. The other felonies that some of the educators have been convicted of in addition to the racketeering carry charges of five to 10 years each.

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