Dougherty County cheating probe restarted

Gov. Nathan Deal did an about-face Friday, saying special investigators who found evidence of systemic cheating in Atlanta Public Schools will now turn their attention to a South Georgia school district.

That was disconcerting to Dougherty County school officials, who for a brief time thought they were in the clear of any state investigation.

"We had a one-day celebration," said R.D. Harter, a spokesman for the Dougherty County School System in Albany.

Harter said Dougherty school officials heard Wednesday from the media and confirmed with the governor's office that the state had dropped its investigation into cheating in their system on the Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests.

Deal said Friday that he learned the day before that a preliminary probe by special investigators "raised grave concerns" about Dougherty's school system.

"We owe it to the children of Dougherty County to get answers, and our commitment to equal protection under the law requires us to treat all jurisdictions equally," Deal said.

The governor's news release also included a statement from former Georgia Attorney General Mike Bowers, one of the special investigators, saying the state should move "expeditiously" to complete its investigation in Dougherty.

“After reviewing the preliminary results of the investigation in Dougherty County on Wednesday and today, contrary to my initial impression, I do not believe the investigation should be terminated,” Bowers wrote.

Deal announced on Tuesday that special investigators had found evidence of cheating at 44 Atlanta schools involving 178 teachers and principals. The investigation was prompted by high numbers of erasures and wrong-to-right answers on the 2009 CRCT. Suspicious test results were uncovered in other districts, with Dougherty County having the second-most, behind Atlanta, at 12 of its 26 schools.

Harter said that since the release of the erasure report in 2010, the school system of 16,000 students has gone through two investigations: one by the superintendent, staff and local police, and one by an outside group. Neither found evidence of cheating, he said.