Monday, April 13, 2015


Atlanta School Cheating 
‘Unindicted Co-Conspirators’ 
Not To Be Punished

By Rhonda Cook - The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Those who opted for trial are a small fraction of the original 178 educators and administrators named in the governor’s investigative report of teachers changing answers on the Criterion-Referenced Competency Test.

Thirty-five were eventually indicted. Eighty-three were named unindicted co-conspirators. Sixty of those were given immunity. Ten of them testified.

Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard accepted pleas to lesser charges from 21 of the 35 indicted. Eleven of them finished their misdemeanor probation sentences, which included community service while their former colleagues were on trial. The rest either have time remaining on their probation or have not completed all their required community service.
Retired teacher Lavonia Ferrell changed answers on students’ standardized tests but she didn’t plead guilty to any charges in the Atlanta Public Schools cheating case.  Investigators did not charge Ferrell, who is now retired.


They also didn’t charge Sharon Pitts, who admitted in a court document that she destroyed copies of an internal investigative report about teachers and administrators changing answers on student tests, or Kathy Augustine, who investigators said lied about helping former Superintendent Beverly Hall cover up cheating by teachers.

Pitts now heads human resources for public schools in Grand Rapids, Mich. Augustine runs a consulting business out of her metro Atlanta home.

But for 10 lower-ranking former administrators and teachers, even getting to spend another night at home could be years away. They took their chances by going to trial rather than admitting guilt or turning on former colleagues, and they face the possibility of 20 years in prison when they’re sentenced today.
Some in metro Atlanta are upset about teachers who cheated being treated the same as someone who robbed a bank or ran a drug enterprise.

The difference in possible outcomes between those who were tried and those who were not strike many as unfair, but it is the way the justice system works: Cut a deal and you might be offered a chance to plead guilty to a lesser charge and get a lighter sentence, maybe even a chance to walk away. Demand a trial, and be ready to deal with heavy consequences.

Fulton County Superior Court Judge Jerry Baxter warned them early in the process they could pay a price for their choice to go to trial.

The 11 who were convicted now have to pay with prison time. Scott Smith, attorney for former Benteen Elementary School testing coordinator Theresia Copeland called that a “trial tax” for insisting on going to trial to seek a jury verdict. Copeland will be sentenced for one count each of racketeering and false statements and writings.

Those who opted for trial are a small fraction of the original 178 educators and administrators named in the governor’s investigative report of teachers changing answers on the Criterion-Referenced Competency Test.

Thirty-five were eventually indicted. Eighty-three were named unindicted co-conspirators. Sixty of those were given immunity. Ten of them testified.

Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard accepted pleas to lesser charges from 21 of the 35 indicted. Eleven of them finished their misdemeanor probation sentences, which included community service while their former colleagues were on trial. The rest either have time remaining on their probation or have not completed all their required community service.

Two of the educators indicted did not accept pleas but did not go to trial. Hall was excused from the trial for health reasons, and she died last month, before the jury had begun deliberating. D.H. Stanton Elementary School principal Willie Davenport died of cancer a few months after she was indicted.

It’s all within the district attorney’s discretion “as to whom they will charge and whom they will not,” said Georgia State University law professor Russell Covey.

Sometimes evidence is lacking or prosecutors made a deal in exchange for information. Also, Covey said, prosecutors “might believe the interest of justice might not be served by prosecuting that individual.”

Howard declined to discuss why anyone was or was not indicted early on. But the indictment of those charged refers to school employees who “admitted to cheating but have not been charged due to their confessions, cooperation and truthful testimony.”

The only mark against those who cooperated is the label “unindicted co-conspirator” that will forever be theirs, said attorney George Lawson, who represented Michael Pitts, a former regional administrator who is scheduled to be sentenced Monday.

“If they were truly co-conspirators… they go unscathed,” said attorney Akil Secret, who represented now-convicted former Deerwood Academy assistant principal Tabeeka Jordan.

The specific impact that ‘unindicted co-conspirator’ label had on many of them is hard to gauge. Almost all attempts to get comments from them were not successful. Messages weren’t returned. Phones had been disconnected. And a few declined to talk, saying they had new careers or new lives and wanted that troubled time to remain in their past.

Stacey Smith, one of the unindicted co-conspirators, was a third-grade teacher at Usher/Collier Heights Elementary School when she cheated, she testified. Smith now teaches at an area Head Start program. She cried while she testified, explaining she had been new to education, scared, and wanted to fit in at Usher/Collier Heights.

Smith couldn’t be reached for comment.

At least one unindicted co-conspirator continues to teach at an Atlanta elementary school, and others are in classrooms at schools throughout the metro area and the state, according to state and APS records.

Two are teaching in other countries. Former Finch Elementary School teacher Sharona Thomas-Wilson is in Dubai, and former Benteen Elementary School Diana Quisenberry is reported to be in Southeast Asia, according to their attorneys.

Those who did not face prison time are trying to move on.

http://www.myajc.com/news/news/crime-law/atlanta-school-cheating-unindicted-co-conspirators/nkqC7/?ecmp=ajc_social_twitter_2014_sfp#78a615de.3828699.735700

16 comments:

  1. So, most of these who cheated were not charged.

    What message does this lack of having to face consequences send to children today?

    Cheating by altering grade averages and test scores in today's education system is rampant? Even in private schools. At one private school at which I worked, the grades submitted by the teachers were "bumped up" by the school's directors. We teachers had no control over the averages on the report card.

    Furthermore, we were forbidden to give any student below a B -- because a C or lower "would negatively impact the students' applications" to the local magnet school. For the 1996-1997 school term, I worked one year at that school because of the contract I had to sign to get the teaching job, then walked away. Best-paid job I ever had -- with full benefits, too!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Remember Truth or Consequences? So what happens to the former when you remove the latter? Oh well...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. In America, and the World, its become all about kissing the gatekeepers ring!

      Delete
    2. ALL that matters, is that you keep on kissing it.

      Delete
  3. Our children's education is too important to be left in the clumsy, corrupt hands of government bureaucrats.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Ado about nothing. Of all the problems our educators face with our poor kids today, this is about the least I can think of. They should have gotten a slap on the wrist.

    JMJ

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Another government failure, wasting money, cheating society and letting our children down...

      Nothing to see here folks, avert your eyes, move along


      Jersey: YOU and people like you are what's wrong with America

      Delete
    2. LOL! What the f'n hell have any conservatives ever done, Silver? You stupid cons destroyed the middle class and then complained the schools weren't working anymore. You're cannibals. History will record today's American conservatives as cannibals of the American Dream. Useless.

      JMJ

      Delete
    3. A Republican New Yorker with a BrainApril 14, 2015 at 7:14 AM

      This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

      Delete
    4. Jersey, you've avoided addressing the point of the article. Do you REALLY think it's "no big deal" that a huge number teachers and administrators COLLUDED to DECEIVE the pubic and their ostensible "bosses" into believing they were achieving worthwhile goals in education when in fact they were not?

      If children and adolescents are permitted to FAKE their WAY to promotion and graduation, because teachers are unable or unwilling to TEACH them anything worth knowing, that means that taxpayer funded "education" in that particular district is a FARCE –– a SHAM –– a FRAUD.

      I can't see anything that could be MORE of a "Big Deal" than THAT, frankly.

      Why do YOU feel we should dismiss this very real concern so lightly?

      Delete
    5. FT,
      Not to mention the impact on the students' themselves! They, no doubt, got pass on -- lacking the necessary skills for the next level. At some point, they must have reached a level and failed precisely because of the collusion to cheat, that collusion being on the part of the administration and teachers previously in charge.

      I wonder if any of the students committed suicide? I actually know a student who did just that, and his suicide note excoriated the education system. He had been passed on a social basis through high school, thought that he could handle college, and failed miserably.

      Delete
    6. Jersey: What have conservatives done? Homeschooling and school vouchers. Two ideas that provide escape and hope for parents with children trapped in crummy, government-union schools.

      Equality to leftists like you is that we all are equally miserable in a government shit-filled toilet swirling downward (except for the liberal elites, who send their kids to private schools)

      You're all a bunch of red-assed hypocrites.

      Delete
    7. Jersey, while Ithere is validity in your remark about conservatives and the decline of the middle class the subject issue, cheating, faking it, unearned promotion, sub par teaching, really should be discussed and viewed as a ethical issue. It is wrong to cheat, it is unethical to promote a student when unearned, and it does send the wrong message to students; that it okay to fake it and to accept unearned recognition.

      The quality of Our future as a nation competing in the global economic environment depends on the quality of the educarion and experiences our
      youth are exposed to.

      FreeThinke is right. it is abd should be a "Big Deal". Whether you're a liberal or a consevative.

      BTW Jersey, anger alone will not solve this very real problem.

      Delete
  5. We need more affirmative action, obviously white folk are being excluded.

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  6. The falsification of students' scores impacts the subsequent teachers and schools.

    I've had something like that happen to me when the teacher of the previous grade sent to me some 30 students not equipped to handle the curriculum I was required to teach. An entire class of remedial students! I had to revamp entirely the plan for the year! I got the job done for reading and math, but had to toss aside the science and history courses.

    Falsifying students' scores is malpractice of education, IMO.

    ReplyDelete

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