APS cheaters pay a steep price for refusing to accept responsibility

APS cheating defendants were in no position to argue with Judge Jerry Baxter after refusing to admit responsibility and accept sentencing deals.  AJC Photo / Kent D. Johnson

APS cheating defendants were in no position to argue with Judge Jerry Baxter after refusing to admit responsibility and accept sentencing deals. AJC Photo / Kent D. Johnson

“This thing was pervasive. It’s like the sickest thing that’s ever happened to this town.”

Apparently without apologies to Gen. Sherman, thus did Fulton County Superior Court Judge Jerry Baxter summarize the rationale for prison terms, in some cases covering multiple years, for some of the former educators convicted of racketeering in the Atlanta Public Schools cheating trial.

If you thought one of the more remarkable spectacles in Atlanta’s history couldn’t possibly become any more circus-like, you should have tuned in to Tuesday’s sentencing hearing. The exchanges between Baxter and the defense teams were heated at times. Only two of the 11 defendants found guilty accepted sentencing deals offered by prosecutors. The other eight appeared incredulous at being asked to acknowledge responsibility for what has been called the worst cheating scandal in U.S. history — and being ordered to serve prison time and pay relatively large fines. (One other defendant, who recently gave birth, will be sentenced in August.)

Baxter’s reaction to their incredulity was reminiscent of the righteous indignation that spurred former Gov. Sonny Perdue to order a full investigation into the cheating almost five years ago. Some of Baxter’s most impassioned exclamations:

  • “Yesterday I said to everybody, this is the time to search your soul … and the punishment wouldn’t be so severe. It was (about) taking responsibility, and no one is taking any responsibility that I can see.”
  • “I don’t want an apology. I want this community, and these kids that were shortchanged, to have an apology.”
  • To one defendant whose lawyer said she wanted to be able to raise her kids: “Why didn’t she think about that 18 months ago (when she could have accepted a plea deal)?”
  • “(The defendant) didn’t need to be taken away from her kids. She didn’t need all this. She could have just accepted responsibility. The evidence (presented at trial) was overwhelming.”
  • “This was not victimless crime that was going on in this city … These kids had no chance to begin with … the only chance they had was school,” which failed them.
  • “These kids can’t read. … I look at these scores (they got in middle school) and they are totally bogus.”
  • “When you can’t read, you’re passed on and passed on. There are (cheating) victims that are in the jail, kids.”

In the end, three former administrators each received 20-year sentences, with seven years to be served and the rest spent on probation; $25,000 fines; and 2,000 hours of community service. A principal will serve one year in prison, plus 1,000 hours of community service. Two teachers were sentenced to two years in prison, a $5,000 fine and 1,500 hours of community service — when a lawyer for one of them started to ask how she was supposed to come up with $5,000 when she can’t work, Baxter cut him off with an unsympathetic “I don’t know.”

Two other teachers got one year in prison, a $1,000 fine and 1,000 hours of community service. Another teacher who read an apology to the community and admitted her guilt as part of the sentencing deal got one year of home confinement plus a $1,000 fine and 1,000 hours of community service. The other teacher who struck a deal with prosecutors will spend his weekends in jail for six months, pay a $5,000 fine and perform 1,500 hours of community service.

That’s a total of 28 years in prison, some $93,000 in fines and 14,500 hours of community service for those 10, with the 11th sentence still to come.

The rejections by eight defendants of unusual post-conviction sentencing deals appeared to be intended to preserve their right to appeal, which they would have waived as part of the deals. Some of them will have appeal bond hearings to try to stay out of jail while their appeals proceed. But it’s hard to escape the fact that, if those fail, they could spend two years or more in prison while they make their appeals — and yet, they could have been free much sooner under the deals they were offered. I also suspect a great deal of whatever public sympathy they might have enjoyed will have evaporated after the sentencing hearing.

But it is, of course, their right to appeal. And so it looks like we won’t be rid of this saga anytime soon.

(Note: This post has been updated throughout with additional details.)

Reader Comments 0

73 comments
bu2
bu2

Sherman is an apt analogy.  Since its likely it was the rebels who started the blazes that burned Atlanta, just as APS leaders and the Chamber of Commerce burned down APS.

bu2
bu2

Refreshing to hear accountability from Kyle and Jay with the constant stream of "they didn't do anything wrong" on Maureen's blog.

MarkVV
MarkVV

Kyle_Wingfield : “You're the first person I've heard blaming the kids for not having been taught anything”

Why didn’t I have somebody like Kyle around when I was a kid? I could have told my parents, whenever my school results were not up to their expectation: Don’t blame me! Ask Mr. Wingfield. It was not my fault, it was the teacher’s fault!

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@MarkVV One kid not learning in a functional classroom is one thing. Most of the kids in most of the classrooms in most of the schools in the school district is quite another. Your inability to discern, or admit, the difference ought to be embarrassing.

MarkVV
MarkVV

Kyle_Wingfield : “You're the first person I've heard blaming the kids for not having been taught anything”

Astonishing. Kyle Wingfield does not understand the difference between “not being taught anything” and not studying more to learn something. Apparently, in his viewpoint, the kids go to school to get poured the knowledge into their heads by the teachers without any effort on their and their parents' side, and when they do badly in the exams, it is only the fault of the teachers that they did not do the pouring better.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@MarkVV I would have thought you left-wingers would have considered this something along the lines of "student shaming."

If you really think cheating involving the test sheets of thousands of students in more than 40 schools over the course of nearly a decade is the fault of the students, you're not just some grumpy, pedantic contrarian. You're seriously delusional.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@MarkVV Next, I expect you to blame poor kids, not their parents, for their poverty -- hey, why didn't those lazy kids go get a job!

Markat4
Markat4

Simply no excuse. I retired from Georgia public schools after 34 years. I administered many standardized tests during that time, and the instructions and responsibilities were clear. If you violated any of the rules/guidelines, you were guilty, and you were made aware of the consequences of violating any of the guidelines prior to your involvement in any aspect of the testing administration. In most cases, you had to sign an oath verifying your adherence. These teachers and administrators made conscious choices, and in the process they hurt many students as well as the integrity of their positions and the teaching profession. Teaching is a difficult job these days without the added negativity and harm that these educators caused. Even the ones who say they compromised their values and were pressured into being complicit had the choice to say "no" and then could have contacted their legal representatives. It's unfortunate that they made wrong choices, but in no way do they deserve anything other than the sentences they received.

MarkVV
MarkVV

The self-righteousness and hypocrisy surrounding the sentencing of the teachers is sickening, and the trial was a demonstration of the fact that law and justice can be very different things. The aims of the prosecutor seemed to be less to seek justice and more to show how tough we were here, in a case of national prominence, on those hard criminals, who changed school grades.

Those convicted did wrong, and should be punished. But a jail time for this kind of crime is a perversion of justice. To use RICO laws, used in prosecution of individuals who engage in organized crime, and thus putting teachers’ action on the level of mafia activities may have been be technically allowable, but it was a colossal overreach. And it put the defendants between a rock and a hard place – because of the long jail times possible under those statues, it was forcing them to take deals which were depriving them of what no defendant should be deprived of – the right to appeal. With this kind of “justice,” it is no wonder that the US has another “first” among the developed nations – the highest percentage of population in jails.

And then the tremendous damage to those poor children, who now complain. Apparently it is none of their fault that they did not get better results, which would have eliminated the temptation to change the grades and thus show the schools in better light. And the parents, who now want blood of the teachers, but apparently did not notice that their little darlings did not know the school material but were getting good grades.

Sickening

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@MarkVV "Apparently it is none of their fault that they did not get better results, which would have eliminated the temptation to change the grades and thus show the schools in better light."

That is simply astonishing. You're the first person I've heard blaming the kids for not having been taught anything.

Simply amazing.

straker
straker

When I started work in the corporate world, many years ago, I saw something being done that looked a little shady.


When I asked a manager about it, he said "my boy, the less you know about this, the better off you are".


I learned to live by those words in the numerous corporate jobs I held over the years.

gortis
gortis

I'm an educator and I can tell you right now that if I wanted to cheat on the test, it could very well be done without an administrator knowing, much less one that works outside of the building. Did widespread cheating exist? Absolutely! However, I am confused that the state's position focused primarily on the large intimidation machine in APS as support for RICO, yet not every SRT, nor every school, nor every teacher (even in a cheating school) was found to have cheated. What does this mean? It simply demonstrates that the cheating was performed by individuals who made individual choices. Even more, those individuals were given a big fat pass because many of them were able to lay blame upstream for being "made" or "forced" to cheat. How convenient.

I was in a Davis-Williams' school for one year and never did I detect some kind of turned up pressure. The devil himself could not have forced me to cheat. Are you kidding me?

《Weak》

There are plenty cases in which innocent people have been erroneously convicted. Sometimes the evidence or its interpretation can fall on the wrong side. I'm not saying it did, but merely suggesting it as a possibility here. Remember O.J.?

To be clear, I have felt more pressure and had far tougher supervisors in corporate, but it didn't serve as the catalyst for unscrupulous acts on my part. If it had, would I be able to blame my boss for being too tough or intimidating? I doubt it. Is there even a hint of a possibility that some of the 8 are actually innocent? Many of you are looking in from the outside and are swept up (understandibly) by emotions and concern for the innocent casualties of this atrocity. I'm simply a Devil's Advocate who has been in the field.

blue-moon
blue-moon

They are guilty but the sentences are just ridiculous. I find it hard to believe that folks got 7 years in jail for cheating but NOT ONE wall street executive was put in jail or arrested for bringing down the entire economy with mortgage fraud. Something is wrong with this picture. They should have gotten fined and one or two months  in jail. Seven years is wrong wrong wrong...

skruorangeclown
skruorangeclown

I know Jerry Baxter. You do not want to piss him off. Surprised he did not give them life sentences. They had their chance to avoid a three or four month circus at great expense to the county. I thought teachers act as role models? 

I bet their Union reps told them to fight this.

HIbought theRefs
HIbought theRefs

I think the fines were light. I wanted to see fines on par with those paid by those who took the plea deal --- $50,000 for the high end seems more appropriate.  These people lied, cheated and stole. And they stole from children.  

I bet Shani Robinson is probably ready to sign her deal now ... she's seen what the future holds and it is not pretty. 

And their indignation that they would have to admit guilt  and waive an appeal in order to get the deal the DA was offering -  bet that's looking better in hindsight.

Rory_Bellows
Rory_Bellows

I still don't get it. To start, none of this helps the children, whose education was compromised because politicians created a solution (standardized testing) to solve a problem brought on by poor parenting.  When I went to school, my parents knew what I was doing, how well I was doing and what needed to be improved. 


Next, sending teachers to jail STILL does not solve the problem. Maybe a lot of you feel better that they are being incarcerated, but I've yet to see a solution to the education problems. 

DawgDadII
DawgDadII

@Rory_Bellows  Prosecuting crimes is not designed or undertaken to provide justice for the victims. Civics, about sixth or seventh grade if I remember correctly. In many cases, justice for the victims is impossible, but there are civil courts where some recourse can be sought.

Pub Heaven
Pub Heaven

@Rory_Bellows The trial was not intended to solve the (many) problems in the Atlanta public school system. The trial was held to determine if criminal conduct had occurred, and the sentences are intended to punish the individuals found guilty of that conduct. 

Markat4
Markat4

It's called a judicial system that hears case involving criminal activity and then rules on those cases with appropriate consequences. Those educators were required to know the consequences. They simply chose to ignore them. Of course, this doesn't help the children, and neither did the actions of these educators. And no, it doesn't make us feel better that they are being incarcerated. However, there must be accountability when people are intrusted with one of our most valuable, our children. There are definitely problems in the schools that must be addressed, but these teachers and administrators only prolonged that process.

FIGMO2
FIGMO2

I like this Judge Baxter. A no nonsense kinda guy.

The former educators' community service will be served at Atlanta's jail teaching inmates, some of whom are the victims of the problems in Atlanta's school system, Baxter said.

Kewl! 

Truthyness
Truthyness

Just maybe, just maybe the teachers who refused to plead guilty were innocent. Maybe they were just caught in the web of suspicion. If they are innocent, I commend them for standing by their convictions.

Pub Heaven
Pub Heaven

@Truthyness

!2 individuals were indicted by a Grand Jury, and 11 were found guilty by 12 jurors who listened to weeks of evidence from both the prosecution and the defense. The jury determined that 11 individuals were guilty of the specific crimes charged, and one individual was found not guilty. "Web of suspicion" is not a criminal offense.

Have you ever attended a complete criminal trial?

I mean, other than on television...

Calel
Calel

Yeah, I can understand them standing for their, uh, "convictions," no pun intended, but after you've been CONVICTED, and a judge is throwing you a lifeline, accept it. They could have taken the sentencing deal and spoke of their innocence everyday of their house arrests or probation period. Let's face it, after next week, they have to live with these decisions. The "leaders" who have their back now won't be there next week. Run into Andy Young around December and ask him the name of ONE of those teachers and I BET YOU he has a Ralph Kramden, "Hama-Hama-Hama" moment.

JBP-2993
JBP-2993

Justice is not supposed to be about revenge. Revenge is exactly what this jerk judge is doing. Grandstanding for a higher position.

If they were all guilty as he said, give them all the same sentence and a $25,000 fine.

Hey, someone will need to pay for the raises all judges got this year thanks to our legislature.

bu2
bu2

@JBP-2993 

They had different culpability.


Judge did a great job.  He, unlike some here, actually understands what happened.

GoldGlover
GoldGlover

What the heck does the color of those convicted and accused have to do with this. Do you actually think they were targeted because they were the minority in the  APS. That might work on other occasions but this attempt at the race card is laughable. It is not unusual though because is does work and anything that worked  in the past Hey! why not throw it in.  

tyger
tyger

Interesting that the Judge highlights "kids getting passed on yet", what does the criminal justice system do with its over-crowding problem. Isn't letting criminals out early in the sake of judicial efficiency equivalent to passing the kids on. Hard economics dictates that you cannot fit 100 kids in a classroom.

Tonii6
Tonii6

They had many chances to get off the 'the runaway train", but they chose otherwise. If you dance to the music, you pay to the piper.

SJGM
SJGM

Congratulations to Judge Baxter for his decisions in sentencing. Owning one's sins was all these folks had to do. but no; egos, narcissism, arrogance ruled. So...he gave fair repeat warning, and generously so; but they didn't take the chance he gave them. Oh well. Enjoy prison stripes.

And Andy Young, Markel Hutchins, Tim Macdonald etc., need to STOP making excuses for bad behavior. WHEN will that group STOP excusing bad behavior within the community! Embarrassing!

maxman2660
maxman2660

@SJGM the above named andy young, markel hutchins are race baiters, it's how they make their living,and they found out long ago race baiting pays well in this country

stogiefogey
stogiefogey

Most fines are never collected, they're usually imposed as a feel-good cherry on top for public consumption.

Prison is another matter. Unless these "educators" are condident their convictions will be overturned on appeal their refusal to accept Baxter's offer of leniency in exchange for acknowledgment of guilt was an act of hubris and stupidity.

Quackmeyer
Quackmeyer

Why were there no white administrators, principals or teachers arrested, tried and convicted?  Granted, I really have not followed this story until just at the end but was this ever a point that had been discussed at all in public?  Did the white APS employees refuse to participate in this 'scam of scams' or were none of them ask to be cheaters?  I guess I'm confused!

Thunderbolt1989
Thunderbolt1989

@djfior @Quackmeyer When was the last time Quackmeyer actually toured the halls of an APS school, even in Buckhead.  Whites are a minority at APS by a significant margin.

Club80
Club80

@Quackmeyer If there were white people involved, they would have been tried on the same charges. So, apparently there weren't any white folks that did anything wrong. Simple concept, right??

skruorangeclown
skruorangeclown

@Quackmeyer There are fine white teachers and administrators in the APS with some fine schools equal to the burbs. None of them got caught . Why?  This was part of the Bill Campbell / Andy Young mentality that Black folks can do no wrong and  need to look to the $$ they are entitled to get by any means. Kinda like what used to go on at the airport all the time.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

Secondly, understand that failing students, grossly, by grade levels, is not an intelligent solution.


In any democracy, every student who has even below average IQ (but not severely so) should be able to become literate to some degree in reading, mathematics, science, and social studies (or history) in order to enhance the society as a whole. However, students, because they will always have varied IQs and differing needs, must always be taught concepts and skills to mastery at differing RATES.  That will result in students of the same grade levels – all the way through 12th grade – needing to be taught exactly where they are functioning, irrespective of their grade level demarcations.  This is how we will improve public education.


In addition to that, those students who would better be served by focusing on trade skills should be taught those skills earlier in high school, and perhaps even toward the end of middle school, before they give up and drop out of school.  There should be no stigma attached to this educatonal trajectory for those students.  They should be given much on-the-job training throughout their high school course work, and some of the high school course work in these trade areas could be co-oped with colleges or more advanced trade schools for use after the students’ high school graduation. 


Btw, because rate of instruction should always be adjusted to individual students’ needs, some students realistically should take 13 years to graduate from high school with mastery of its content, and some gifted students may need only 11 years to graduate with mastery from high school.

------------------------------------------------------------------

Summary:

An educational model, not a business model, should ALWAYS exist in public schools.  Children are not cars which can be upped on the assembly line increase of output by 5% every year, for all children and all teachers. That is educational insanity from the top down.  And, by top, I mean Atlanta’s business leaders who put this pressure for PR marketing on the Atlanta Public Schools.




DawgDadII
DawgDadII

As I posted elsewhere, the trial may be over but the stain of this scandal will mar people's lives and Atlanta for generations.

Ugaboss
Ugaboss

I wonder how long it will be before Baxter has a TV judge show?

Calel
Calel

He sure had a radio show on WSB today!

NorthAtlanta
NorthAtlanta

These people had many opportunities to make a plea deal along the way to save the taxpayers money, but their self-righteousness and arrogance got them where they are today.

Zino
Zino

7 year, 1 year sentences--if they took a plea deal, they would have walked with probation.  they need better legal counsel.

Starik
Starik

@ClubShark Most likely they didn't listen to their lawyers' advice. They had that right.

Visual_Cortex
Visual_Cortex

After seeing this pic, I have to ask--this Judge Baxter, he's Italian on his mama's side, am I right?

Beyond that, yeah, pretty much everything you've said goes double for me.