Atlanta Educators Handed Sentences In Cheating Scandal

Apr 14, 2015
Originally published on April 15, 2015 4:52 am

In a fiery sentencing hearing Tuesday, a judge in Atlanta lashed out at some of the 10 former educators convicted in a grade-changing scandal. Prosecutors offered reduced sentences in exchange for apologies, but most of the former educators chose not to do that and received lengthy prison terms.

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There was high drama in an Atlanta courtroom today. A judge sentenced 10 former educators for their role in a massive test cheating scandal. They were convicted of conspiring to change student test scores so they could earn raises and bonuses. Martha Dalton of member station WABE has this report. We should note that though its newsroom is independent, WABE's broadcast license is held by the Atlanta Board of Education.

MARTHA DALTON, BYLINE: Two defendants accepted negotiated sentences. They admitted guilt, apologized to the court and got lighter punishments. One of them, Pamela Cleveland, apologized to parents students and the community.

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PAMELA CLEVELAND: I, Pamela Cleveland, also apologize to the court and all of its officers for the things that happened during the 2009 CRCT administration which I was a part of, and acknowledge that I am guilty of the crimes charged against me.

DALTON: Cleveland was the only defendant who didn't receive jail time. She was put on probation and has to provide community service. She'll be confined to her home for a year and pay a $1,000 fine. In order to receive lighter sentences, defendants had to admit guilt and forgo their rights to appeal. Most, like former assistant principal, Tabeeka Jordan, didn't do that. Jordan's attorney, Akil Secret, still tried to convince the judge to take mercy.

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AKIL SECRET: We've heard from the children that said they don't want their teacher going to prison. We've heard from some of the parents. So, your Honor, I'm going to ask of you to follow the recommendation of the children and their parents.

DALTON: But Judge Jerry Baxter wasn't swayed. He was upset during the proceedings, interrupting attorneys and complaining. He said he was disappointed the defendants wouldn't own up to what they were convicted of doing.

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JERRY BAXTER: All I want from any of these people is just to take some responsibility. But they refuse. They refuse.

DALTON: In the end, Judge Baxter gave three former educators maximum sentences of 20 years in prison. They'll serve seven years and spend 13 on probation. Five defendants received five years in prison with at least one year served. It's not the final chapter in the Atlanta cheating scandal. Officials are concerned about the thousands of students who had their test scores changed from failing to passing. The Fulton County District Attorney's Office announced today the creation of the Atlanta Redemption Academy. It will provide tutoring for students who are behind because of what happened. Bernice King, daughter of the late civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., said she'd help lead the academy.

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BERNICE KING: The reality is that we have to look at reforming education overall. And I want to take a page from my father's last book, "Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos Or Community?" so that we can turn community out of the chaos that's going on.

DALTON: As for the eight defendants who didn't take negotiated sentences, they have 30 days to appeal. For NPR News I'm Martha Dalton in Atlanta. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.