Racketeering Teachers to Attend “School” of Hard Knocks
Georgia – According to an old adage of undetermined origin, “The fish stinks from the head.” The recent Atlanta Public School (APS) scandal demonstrates that rotten fish and organizations run by ethically challenged personnel have much in common. But there is also a significant difference- rotten fish don’t go to prison, crooked officials do.
Organized Cheaters and Falsified Scores
The APS scandal originally identified 178 teachers and principals as having taken part in an organized system of cheating to boost test scores. The scam traces its roots back to Beverly Hall who was brought in as school superintendent in 1999. Hall was reputed to be a tough administrator who would raise standards and accept no excuse for failure.
Apparently, she didn’t equate falsifying test scores with failure and created a culture of corruption. Ultimately, Hall and 34 other teachers and administrators were indicted. Twenty one plead guilty, one died, and the remaining 12 went to trial.
April Fools guilty day
On April 1st, perhaps the most appropriate day of the year, 11 of the educators were found guilty of racketeering and the 12th was acquitted. (Beverly Hall died of breast cancer on March 3rd.) According to a report by Atlanta television station WXIA,
Jurors deliberated for nearly eight days before reaching their collective decision.
“This has been a long, long, long journey,” Judge Jerry Baxter said shortly before the verdict was read. “I know everyone here probably has emotions they can’t describe. I know I do. But I want to tell you — I’ve been down here 42 years … and I’ve never seen a jury that was more diligent.”
“Whatever your verdict is, I’ll defend it until I die,” Baxter added.
Helping the numbers along
Although the trial itself took six months, the test score scandal dates back at least 7 years. In 2008, standardized test scores in a number of schools rose dramatically. The next year, a state investigation uncovered substantial evidence that test scores had been massaged. Hall denied any wrong-doing.
In 2010, a subsequent investigation, conducted by a committee with allegiances to Hall, found only 12 schools involved in cheating. If anything, the shallowness of the investigation exposed the breadth of the scandal, and the need for a legitimate examination of the school system.
We don’t know anything about it
It wasn’t until Georgia’s Governor Nathan Deal called for an investigation by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation that in addition to the cheating scandal, school administrators had interfered with the investigation, destroyed documents and used intimidation tactics to prevent employees from speaking out.
As soon as the verdict was announced, Judge Baxter ordered all the convicted defendants to be taken into custody. They face a maximum of 20 years imprisonment on the racketeering charge. The prospect of a 20 year prison term predictably brought a negative response from “community activists” who think the former educators should not serve any jail time.
According to a report by WSB-TV, Rev. Timothy McDonald thinks jailing the former educators doesn’t serve any purpose.
“How you going to put teachers, educators in the same class as drug dealers and mafia? Murderers? Under RICO? How does that serve to benefit the larger community?” McDonald said.
McDonald also stated that because some of the defendants had never had so much as a traffic ticket, they should be released, because they were educators. One can only wonder if McDonald thinks former educators should also be given a pass if they were found guilty of robbery, rape or murder.
Real consequences needed
It probably would never occur to him that sending the defendants to jail will benefit the larger community by firmly establishing that there are severe consequences to illegal actions, regardless of your profession. The convicted racketeers weren’t only involved in a cheating scandal, they were part of a cover-up. As educators, they certainly can’t plead “ignorance.”
Or perhaps that’s McDonald’s point: considering that the defendants were part of the Atlanta Public School system, a plea of ignorance is entirely appropriate.