APS officials to begin surrendering

Mar 31, 2013 by

The first of almost three dozen indicted educators are expected to walk through the doors of the Fulton County Jail around daybreak Monday to be searched, fingerprinted and processed as accused felons.

If they time it right, some may not have to trade their street clothes for the orange jailhouse jumpsuits. They will already have made arrangements for bond and arrived at the jail early enough to be processed before court sessions start.

Otherwise, those who haven’t made bond will stay locked up.

Thirty-five former Atlanta public school employees were named in a 65-count indictment returned Friday alleging racketeering, false statements and writings and other charges related to alleged cheating on standardized test scores and the covering up of those actions.

Retired Atlanta school Superintendent Beverly Hall, some of her top deputies, principals, teachers and a secretary have until Tuesday to turn themselves in. Once processed in the jail, they will have to go before a magistrate, where bond is discussed. The grand jury said Hall’s bond should be set at $7.5 million, but the judge can set a lesser amount.

“We plan on surrendering Monday morning around 7 or 7:30,” said attorney Gerald Griggs, who represents teachers Starlette Mitchell and Angela Williamson. “We have made arrangements for bond. That’s why they are turning in so early.”

He said the two teachers hope to make the 11 a.m. first-appearance calendar for the judge at the jail Monday.

Other lawyers representing defendants in the case said Saturday they had not decided when their clients would surrender, but it would be before the deadline Tuesday.

The suspected test cheating at dozens of Atlanta public schools was first reported after The Atlanta Journal-Constitution detected statistically improbable increases in test scores at one Atlanta school in 2008. The following year, the AJC published another analysis that found suspicious score changes on the 2009 mandated Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests at a dozen Atlanta schools.

A subsequent state investigation resulted in a July 2011 report that depicted a culture that rewarded cheaters, punished whistle-blowers and covered up improprieties. The report on the investigation described organized wrongdoing that robbed tens of thousands of children of an honest appraisal of their abilities.

Investigators concluded that Hall, who retired from APS in July 2011, knew or should have known about cheating.

Bonuses for Hall and top administrators were the rewards for improved test scores.

Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard said the children are the victims; some of them were promoted despite reading far below their grade levels.

Hall is charged with one count of violating Georgia’s Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act and four other charges, which could mean up to 40 years in prison if she is convicted. The indictment portrays her at the center of the alleged wrongdoing that resulted in criminal charges against 34 other people, including the highest levels of the Hall administration.

Hall’s lawyer, Richard Deane, a former U.S. attorney, could not be reached for comment Saturday, but he said in a statement released Friday that the former superintendent denies involvement in any cheating on the CRCT and has done nothing wrong.

Mitchell, a former teacher at Parks Middle School, is accused of racketeering and three counts of making false statements and writings. Prosecutors said she lied to GBI agents three times about knowing of suspected cheating at the school.

Williamson, also accused of racketeering, is charged with two counts of making false statements and writings and two counts of false swearing. Prosecutors said she lied in her disciplinary hearings, misled GBI agents and gave students at Dobbs Elementary School the correct answers on the CRCT.

“It shocked my clients,” Griggs said of the indictments.

He said there were “a lot of tears” when he told them about the charges. Both women spent the weekend with family.

“We plan to vigorously defend this,” Griggs said. “I don’t think the pubic realizes they are educators and now they have to be booked (into jail) and prosecuted. (They] hope they get bond or they may have to sit in jail.”

Prosecutors said those indicted Friday are likely facing their first experience with the criminal justice system and being accused of a crime.

The prison sentence for a racketeering conviction is five to 20 years. The other crimes listed in the indictment — false statements and writings, false swearing, theft by taking and influencing witnesses — have prison sentences of one to five years.

via APS officials to begin surrendering | www.ajc.com.

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