This week Atlanta Public School educators did a mortifying “perp walk” to the Fulton County Jail to be booked, fingerprinted, photographed – and some put into orange jump suits.
Thirty-five teachers and administrators made national headlines as they were indicted on criminal charges that include racketeering, theft by taking and making false statements about their roles in an alleged plot to falsify students’ standardized tests. As of early Wednesday, 31 of 35 educators indicted in the scandal had turned themselves in at Fulton County Jail.
The leader of the group, former Atlanta School Superintendent Beverly Hall, checked in late Tuesday afternoon, and was immediately released on $200,000 bond.
Hall served as Atlanta’s superintendent for more than a decade. She is alleged to have received nearly $500,000 in bonuses in addition to her salary before she retired in 2011.
She was named Superintendent of the Year by the American Association of School Administrators in 2009 and credited with raising student test scores and graduation rates, particularly among the district’s poor and minority students. But the award quickly lost its luster as her district became mired in the scandal.
In 2011 a state investigation found cheating by 178 educators in 44 Atlanta schools. Educators gave answers to students or changed answers on tests after they were turned in, investigators said. Teachers who tried to report it faced retaliation, creating a culture of ”fear and intimidation.”
Most of the educators named in the special investigators’ report resigned, retired, did not have their contracts renewed or appealed their dismissals and lost, according to Atlanta Public Schools spokesman Stephen Alford.
In announcing the indictment, Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard used the story of an Atlanta third-grader to underscore the importance of the case, with teachers and administrators more focused on test scores than student improvement. He said the girl received the worst score in her reading class in 2006 and yet, when she took an assessment test, she passed with flying colors. The girl is now in ninth grade, reading at a fifth-grade level.
City stakeholders – from parents to politicians — have weighed in with statements, observations and advice.
“I consider this one of the most important, one of the seminal developments in the history of American education law. It’s the largest school teaching scandal yet recorded in the country,” said Ron Carlson, professor of law emeritus at the University of Georgia.
Morgan Cloud, a professor at Emory University School of Law, said prosecutors will also have to work to explain the racketeering law to jurors.
“When we think of racketeers we think of people who engage in murder and drug dealing and prostitution,” Cloud said.
“Everything falls back on Beverly Hall,” says parent Jude Poux, the site director of Sharon Lester Tennis Center in Piedmont Park. His daughter is a freshman at Grady High and has been a product of APS schools since early grade school. “She created the culture, she threatened people.”
Current and former mayors have even chimed in on the scandal recently.
“The allegations in the indictment against former Atlanta Public School Superintendent Beverly Hall and other administrators and teachers are painful to read,” said Mayor Kasim Reed. “This has been a very difficult process for our city’s public schools.
Former Mayor Shirley Franklin expressed concern about what she believes is a developing “lynch mob mentality.”
“Say a prayer for a fair trial for all those charged,” she said in a recent blog. ” Say a prayer for every family and child who has been touched by the scandal and say a prayer to calm the public lynching mob mentality that has begun.”
ADW staff writer James Pressley contributed to this article