More than two years after dozens of people were indicted over a widespread cheating scandal in the Atlanta public school system, a jury found multiple former teachers and educators guilty Wednesday of conspiring to change test scores.
The lengthy trial focused on a scandal that had drawn widespread attention as teachers and principals from elementary and middle schools were charged with racketeering. Many of them later took plea deals to avoid the trial, with some pleading guilty and agreeing to probation, community service as well as vowing to apologize.
A jury found 11 of 12 former educators guilty of racketeering. Fulton County Superior Court Judge Jerry W. Baxter read the jury’s decisions aloud in the courtroom Wednesday, spending nearly five minutes reciting a procession of guilty verdicts.
“They have been convicted,” he said later, ordering that many of these people be taken into custody after reading the verdicts. “I have sat here for six months and listened to this whole thing. That’s the cold hard truth, it’s just the cold hard truth.”
An investigation in 2011 found that widespread cheating had occurred on standardized tests in the Atlanta school system. According to a report released by Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal (R), the cheating harmed thousands of children, was found in more than 40 schools and dated back several years.
The cheating was largely the result of pressure to meet specific testing targets in an environment that focused on these results, the report found. All told, the state concluded that 178 teachers and principals throughout the Atlanta school system cheated.
“Our entire effort in this case was simply to get our community to stop and take a look at our educational system,” Paul L. Howard Jr., the Fulton County district attorney, said during a news conference Wednesday. “We wanted people to look at the educational system that their children attended every day…to look to see what we had to do as a community to move forward.”
11 of 12 defendants in APS trial found guilty by Fulton Co jury. #APSscandal Congrats to extremely hard work of APS trial team
— Fulton County DA (@FultonCountyDA) April 1, 2015
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution had reported extensively on the suspicious test scores at Georgia schools, finding elementary schools that saw their results skyrocket over the course of a year.
In March 2013, after the Fulton County district attorney conducted a criminal investigation lasting for nearly two years, a grand jury indicted Beverly Hall, the former superintendent, and 34 other people for their roles in the scandal. Hall died earlier this month.
Prosecutors said that the people charged had conspired to cheat as well as to punish anyone who acted as a whistleblower. The racketeering charge carries with it a penalty of up to 20 years, the district attorney’s office said.
[This post has been updated.]