Can’t forget that wrongdoing wronged kids

Melody T. McCloud is an Atlanta-based obstetrician-gynecologist, author and media consultant.

Choices. We make them everyday; from the mundane to the life-changing. We can choose to do good, or evil. Right, or wrong. We choose to tell truths. Or lies. We choose to admit wrongdoing; or deny our misdeeds — even to ourselves.

The Atlanta Public School (APS) cheating scandal is a lesson in “choice.” Based on confessions of complicit educators; affected students’ testimonies; objective evidence of erased score sheets, and admitted-to “erasure parties,” 178 educators made choices to defraud thousands of Atlanta public school students. This happened for nearly a decade, spanning over 40 schools.

Before an eight-month trial, some of the accused reluctantly, but bravely, chose to confess their misdeeds. Judge Jerry Baxter honored their contrition. Many have already completed their probation and moved on with their lives.

Other educators went to trial, choosing to not own their deeds before trial, during the trial, nor after the verdict, despite Judge Baxter granting repeat, ample opportunities for them to admit responsibility for their well-documented wrongs. Between verdicts and sentencing, Baxter even subjected them to a taste of the jail experience, but defiance prevailed. So here they stand.

What has happened to the convicted-felon, mostly-prison-bound-APS-educators is unfortunate. I hurt for them — these “good” people with “integrity.” But it didn’t have to be. Their stunningly bad choices brought them, the harmed kids, and Atlanta to this point. And, sadly, yes there are serious consequences.

Teaching is a noble profession. In this instance, it was despicably dishonored. Did these educators not reason that changing answers was wrong, harmed students, was self-serving and not in keeping with professional conduct?

When informed that teachers who refused to cheat would be punished, some voluntarily resigned. Integrity. Choice.

The pervasive plan to cheat was not pure coincidence; it was systemic cross-system collusion for personal gain, job security, money, awards and recognition.

I believe Beverly Hall masterminded this disgraceful tragedy. Hall lost her life; and these educators have professionally lost theirs. But they are still breathing, left to live with shame, disgrace, no professional license and, for many, the title of convicted felon.

Needy students were denied educational guidance — the very essence of what educators are to provide. So to see past (and current) “wannabe” Black leaders make excuses for some people’s bad behavior — not only in this APS matter, but others nationwide — is disappointing. These wrongdoing educators wronged the children. A fraud was committed against children by teachers who claim to “love” them. As Judge Baxter said, “This is not a victimless crime.” Where is support for the kids whose lives are damaged?

Proven facts are stubborn things that are sometimes painful and uncomfortable to accept.

Wrongdoing, defiance, arrogance and pride all come before a fall, and make for strange bedfellows, especially in a prison cell. Because of their choices, the convicted educators made their bed and, now, they have to lie in it.

The Greek philosopher Pythagoras said, “Choose always the way that seems the best, however rough it may be.” If only the now-convicted educators had learned that lesson.