Former head of the Atlanta Public Schools system Beverly Hall hasn't been very public about accusations against her since she was charged three weeks ago with racketeering for alleged involvement with a massive cheating scandal. However, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, that changed after her lawyer announced last week that Hall was "absolutely innocent" of the charges.
Richard Deane, a former US attorney and federal judge who is representing Hall, said that the there was no evidence against Hall to support the charges that she was instrumental in a conspiracy to force her staff to cheat on the Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests.
According to Deane, Hall is also innocent of any attempts to cover up the cheating from the investigators and wasn't aware that cheating on such a massive scale was going on in the district.
Fulton Superior Court Judge Jerry Baxter has scheduled arraignments for May 3, when the defendants are expected to enter pleas of not guilty. Atlanta defense attorney Buddy Parker, who is not involved in the APS case, said Deane is doing what he can to overcome the substantial publicity that came after the indictment was returned, and during the scene of Hall and other educators surrendering at the jail. Parker, who once worked with Deane in the U.S. Attorney's Office, said he believes Deane would not be going public "if he didn't have a belief the evidence is wanting and lacking."
In an interview, Deane said that Hall set targets for her subordinates like any other supervisor because she believed those targets were genuinely achievable. He added that Hall believes that if the cheating did occur, it wasn't a system-wide conspiracy, but rather was done by a few misguided individuals independently.
Deane stressed that Hall had no knowledge that anything regarding the CRCT was going amiss. He refused to speculate about reasons for the cheating, saying that this is an issue that his team plans to address in court.
Deane expressed frustration that the public appears to have accepted as fact that his client is guilty as charged.
"She is presumed to be innocent â¦ and in fact she is innocent, " he said. "That fact seems to be lost in the public dialogue."
Hall was among 35 APS administrators and educators named in a 65-count indictment accusing them of conspiring to cheat on the CRCT.
This year has marked a turnaround for Hall, who was previously cited as an outstanding example of the changes that the education reform movement can make in an urban school district — thanks to a dramatic hike in standardized test scores achieved under her tenure.