Prosecution Rests in Atlanta Schools Cheating Trial

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Prosecutors in the Atlanta Public Schools misconduct trial have rested their case against the educators who were accused of cheating standardized tests, six months after the trial began.

The investigation into the cheating scandal started when a small number of reporters from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution noticed an odd pattern appear in Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests scores across the district.

Fulton County prosecutor Fani Willis said that educators in the district were under extreme pressure to perform on the exams, which they felt could only be attained by cheating.  While some teachers directly gave answers to their students, others corrected exams to ensure the right answers were chosen.

“We termed it as trying to help students,” said former Deerwood Academy teacher Lavonia Farrell during her day long testimony. “We weren’t trying to cause them any harm. We were just trying to help them move on. So it’s something hard to admit that you’ve done something so derogatory as a cheating scandal.”

The state officially rested its case on Wednesday.  The trial began with jury selection on August 11, 2014.

“Your honor, it’s a great honor. The state rests,” prosecutor Fani Willis said to applause from the jury.

The last witness called to the stand was a 16-year-old girl who said she had been given answers to the exam by her teacher. The teacher also instructed her to not tell anyone.

Jurors on the case had been dismissed until Wednesday afternoon to allow attorneys to argue motions seeking to dismiss some of the charges based on the prosecutors not proving their racketeering case, which argued that 12 former educators had worked together to change standardized test scores to make sure higher scores were received.

The charge of racketeering comes with a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.  The 12 defendants are also facing a number of other felony charges.

By the end of testimony on Wednesday, Fulton County Superior Court Judge Jerry Baxter had not yet made a decision whether or not to approve the two motions to acquit.  Motions by other defense attorneys for directed verdicts of appeal were quickly denied, however.

Baxter did say that he was “taking under advisement” a claim by one defense attorney that the prosecutors did not prove the charge of “making a false statement or writing” made against former Dobbs Elementary School principal Dana Evans.

In the case of former Dobbs Elementary teacher Dessa Curb, Baxter said to her attorney, “The evidence against your client troubles me. I’m going to take this under advisement.”

Curb was accused of leaving an answer sheet for the 2009 Criterion-Referenced Competency Test out in the open in her classroom during the exam and also of telling an aide to correct any wrong answers found, writes Rhonda Cook for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

A total of 35 former Atlanta Public Schools educators have been charged in the cheating conspiracy.  While 12 of them are currently on trial, plea deals have been reached with the remaining educators.

If the motions to acquit are denied, it is expected that defense attorneys will call witnesses and the trial will continue for another few weeks.