Jan. 24 is D-day for former Atlanta Public School teachers and administrators involved in the largest alleged school cheating scandal in the nation’s history. Six more indicted Atlanta Public Schools educators have pleaded guilty in Fulton County Superior Court Judge Jerry Baxter’s courtroom to their involvement in the standardized test-cheating conspiracy, bringing the number of guilty pleas to 17. Thirty five teachers and administrators were indicted last year.
The pleas have been entered under the First Offender Act, which allows the defendants to have their records exonerated if they successfully complete the terms and the conditions of their sentences. Each the defendants pleaded guilty to one count of misdemeanor obstruction which allows them to avoid a felony conviction.
Former Parks Middle School teacher, Starlette Mitchell, admitted to changing incorrect answers on tests between 2007 and 2009.
Former Venetian Hills Elementary principal, Clarietta Davis, pleaded guilty to making false statements.
Ex-Parks Middle School teacher Kimberly Oden pleaded guilty to obstruction.
Former Dobbs Elementary teacher Derrick Broadwater, ex-Kennedy Middle School secretary, Carol Dennis, and former Dunbar Elementary teacher Gloria Ivey have also pleaded guilty.
Most defendants have been sentenced to probation, community service and have been ordered to return any bonuses they were paid for Criterion Referenced Competency Test scores that indicated improved student achievement.
While parents of Atlanta’s school children, the most damaged victims in the school cheating scandal, are outraged by the light sentences and demand harsher punishments and stronger safeguards to ensure fairness in testing and restore the APS system’s integrity, some legal experts say compassion is a better course.
“I feel so bad for these poor teachers. They are out of work and don’t have any money to fight these charges,” said Richard Deane Jr., attorney for whom many believe is the target of the investigation, Beverly Hall. Hall is the former superintendent of Atlanta Public Schools.
“I am not sure what these people have pleaded to. The plea agreements drawn up by the state alleges facts to which they could not have possibly had any knowledge,” Deane argued.
To date only one defendant has received a not guilty verdict. Tamara Cotman who had oversight for 21 Atlanta schools was found innocent after being charged with intimidating a witness.
But as the nationally publicized trial approaches, and the Jan. 24 deadline looms large, the enormous pressure the remaining defendants are experiencing is exacerbated by the public and legal scrutiny that accompanies it. This week Judge Baxter told APS cheating scandal defendants that if they did not accept a plea by the deadline, they “would be facing severe consequences.”
Thirty-five educators were indicted in the cheating scandal.