A jury has convicted 11 of the 12 defendants charged with racketeering and other crimes in the Atlanta Public Schools cheating scandal, which is being referred to as the largest cheating scandal in the nation's history.
While 10 of the defendants were immediately placed in custody, one woman, who is pregnant, remains out on bond until sentencing.
"We've been fighting for the children in our community, particularly those children who were deprived by this cheating scandal," Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard said. "Our entire effort in this case was simply to get our community to stop and take a look at our educational system," he added. "I think because of the decision of this jury today that people will stop. I think people will stop, and they will make an assessment of our educational system."
According to Steve Almasy for CNN, all 11 of the convicted defendants were found guilty of racketeering, in addition to other charges, including making false statements. The felony carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. Sentencing is expected to occur in the next few weeks.
The remaining defendant, Dobbs Elementary School teacher Dessa Curb, was acquitted of all charges.
A Fulton County grand jury had indicted 35 educators from the district in 2013. That number included principals, teachers and test coordinators. Over 20 of the original number took a plea deal.
The cheating was discovered during a state review that found cheating in more than half of the elementary and middle schools in the district. Original implications pointed to around 180 teachers in 44 schools, reports Allen Blinder for The New York Times.
It is believed that the cheating began in 2001 when scores on statewide skills tests began to significantly increase in the district. Cheating was found to have continued for at least four years, between 2005 and 2009. During that time test answers had been altered and falsified, according to the indictment.
Former Georgia attorney general Michael Bowers investigated the scandal in 2013, reporting on "cheating parties," erasures in and out of classrooms, and teachers who were told to change answers. "Anything that you can imagine that could involve cheating — it was done," he said. He went on to say that teachers contributed to the cheating in order to earn bonuses, enhance their careers, and keep their jobs.
Other investigators reported more cheating occurring in some schools than others, noting one principal who wore gloves as she changed answers. They went on to say that top officials in the district, including Superintendent Beverly L. Hall, held some responsibility. In their report, investigators said Hall had "created a culture of fear, intimidation and retaliation" that had allowed "cheating — at all levels — to go unchecked for years."
Despite accusations that the cheating had boosted Hall's reputation, she remained adamant during the trial that she had no part in the wrongdoing. "I can't accept that there's a culture of cheating," Dr. Hall said in an interview in 2011. "What these 178 are accused of is horrific, but we have over 3,000 teachers." Hall passed away on March 2.
The following statement was issued by Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed after the reading of the verdicts:
The APS cheating scandal marked one of the darkest periods in the life of our city. I am hopeful that with the jury's verdict today, we can finally close this chapter and move forward with the education and development of our young people. I want to thank Judge Baxter and the Court for their service.