A judge has ruled that eight former Atlanta educators will go to prison, with three sentenced to seven years incarceration and 13 years of probation, for their roles in a cheating scandal that saw numerous student test scores falsified.
After hearing pleading from family and friends of the defendants, Judge Jerry W. Baxter pushed for the educators to take responsibility for their actions and accept a plea deal with prosecutors.
The deal involved a lighter sentence than what was handed down by the judge. The defendants each faced up to 20 years in prison. Defendants who accepted the deal must take responsibility for what they have done, apologize to students, parents and the court, and waive their right to appeal.
"I'm giving you an opportunity to mitigate the hot water that you're in," Baxter said Monday afternoon. "I'd prefer for this thing to be ended for everybody, to try to help heal the open wound in this city, in this school system."
Only two of the 10 accepted a plea deal to avoid prison time.
The scandal, first uncovered by the Atlanta-Journal Constitution over six years ago, raised numerous questions concerning an unnatural increase in test scores throughout the city. A 2011 statewide investigation later revealed cheating occurring by 178 teachers in principals across 40 Atlanta schools.
A total of 35 educators were implicated, many of whom accepted plea deals early on. Of the 12 remaining, former elementary school teacher Dessa Curb was acquitted. The 11 educators left were convicted of racketeering, a felony.
One defendant delivered a baby over the weekend and was allowed to remain free on bond. She will face sentencing in August, writes Richard Fausset for The New York Times.
The eight who did not accept the plea deal were ordered to be immediately imprisoned. The view of educators in handcuffs created a national debate concerning what should count as fair punishment in the case, with many teachers and civil rights leaders asking for leniency. Supporters continue to argue that the problem is not who was cheated in this situation, but rather the pressure they felt to raise test scores, reports Emma Brown for The Washington Post.
"I don't think you have any great bargaining in any of this," said Judge Jerry Baxter of Fulton County Superior Court shortly before he recessed the hearing and urged the defendants to accept the deals. "I've got a fair sentence in my mind, and it involves going to jail — everybody."
The sentencing hearing broke for the day and resumed the next morning with one of the ten having accepted a plea deal. Testing coordinator Donald Bullock received five years' probation, six months of weekends in jail, a $5,000 fine and 1,500 hours of community service. Teacher Pamela Cleveland also accepted a plea deal.
Three of the former educators have been sentenced to seven years in prison with 13 years of probation.