Ten out of the 11 former Atlanta Public Schools educators found guilty of racketeering and other charges were still in jail Thursday awaiting news about the possibility they may be released on bond.
Almost immediately after the guilty verdicts were read Wednesday by a Fulton County jury, the former educators were handcuffed and taken into custody. In dramatic images seen around the world, the educators removed jewelry and handed personal belongings to their attorneys and loved ones before being led away in handcuffs to jail to await sentencing, which will come in the next couple of weeks.
One guilty defendant, Shani Robinson, is in her final months of pregnancy and was not in court as the verdicts were read. She will be sentenced in August on a yet-to-be released date. The defendants will be sentenced April 13 at 10 a.m.
Only former Dobbs Elementary School teacher, Dessa Curb, was acquitted of all charges.
The conspiracy charge was the most serious and could bring sentences up to 20 years. The educators were taken into custody right after the verdicts were read.
The jury returned a mix of guiltys and not guiltys on the remaining felony charges, such as making false statements, for the other 11.
See charges and photos of the convicted teachers here.
The conspiracy verdicts bring a definitive conclusion to a seven-month trial and years of allegations that teachers and administrators conducted and covered up widespread cheating in Atlanta Public Schools.
The 11 convicted former teachers and administrators – 21 others had already pleaded guilty to lesser charges – were led out in handcuffs and face long sentences. The other felony charges could each bring five to 10 years in prison for each count.
As the first guilty verdicts were read the defendants and defense attorneys stood. Their faces fell as they heard the “guilty” verdicts roll.
The convictions close a long, troubling period that tarnished the image of the school system and the city as educators and administrators chose their careers and bonuses over doing right by the children they taught.
Investigators said the educators worked together, sometimes holding erasure parties or dinners, sometimes working alone, to correct answers on the Criterion-Referenced Competency Test. The cheating robbed students, who were passed up to the next grade without being prepared to succeed, and caused the schools to miss out on grants that could have provided tutoring or other help for those who were failing.
The investigation revealed student test sheets that had inordinate numbers of erasures changed to correct answers. One expert testified that the odds that students in one classroom would have so many wrong-to-right erasures without some kind of intervention was one in 284 septillion, 284 followed by 21 zeros.
The scandal, one of the most notorious to strike a U.S. school district, was uncovered by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in 2008, when it found improbably improved scores on on the tests. After a number of newspapers articles, the governor called for a special investigation, in spite of protestations and coverups by Atlanta school leaders including Hall. She was not tried, as she was suffering from breast cancer. Hall died March 2, her attorneys still claiming her innocence.
The governor’s 413-page investigation report, released in July 2011, detailed a system that had a wonderful goal in mind – to improve student performance and learning in even the poorest schools in the district, with no excuses accepted for failure. But it was derailed by the way it was set up.
Hall set rigorous accountability measures, stronger than federal objectives of the No Child Left Behind law, and demanded ever increasing test scores. As yearly scores improved, she garnered state and national accolades, but the governor’s report says teachers suffered under the unrealistic goals, and the system was made ripe for cheating by severe consequences meted out for failure, including firings, demotions and public humiliation.
As allegations of cheating began popping up the administration failed to recognize or seriously investigate them and instead retaliated against those who were reporting the problems.