APS Cheating Scandal

First Trial Ends With Acquittal, Others Await Their Day In Court

By D. Aileen Dodd Contributing Writer | 9/13/2013, 6 a.m.
The Fulton District Attorney’s office faced its first major loss in the unprecedented criminal prosecution of educators in the Atlanta ...
Dr. Beverly Hall maintains she did not initiate the changing of test scores nor did she try to cover up the evidence. The trials for the remaining defendants will be begin next year. (AP Photos).

Last March, in a sweeping indictment that made headlines in The Chicago Tribune and The Washington Post, 35 former APS employees faced charges typically heaped onto drug dealers and gangsters: Racketeering, making false statements, theft by taking, intimidating and influencing a witness.

The 65-count indictment rounded up Hall and four other top administrators, six principals, two assistant principals, six testing coordinators, and 14 teachers, among others. The educators, many of them veterans in their careers, turned themselves into the Fulton County Jail where they were released on bond as news cameras rolled.

“The District Attorney’s Office created a special unit of prosecutors and investigators to explore potential criminal activity connected with the allegations,” according to a statement from Fulton District Attorney Howard. “The investigation included a review of testing activity associated with at least 50 APS schools as well as hundreds of interviews with school administrators, staff, parents and students.

“Prosecutors allege the 35 named defendants conspired to either cheat, conceal cheating or retaliate against whistleblowers in an effort to bolster CRCT scores for the benefit of financial rewards associated with high test scores.”

Among the indicted, former APS Superintendent Hall faces charges of racketeering; making false statements and writings; false swearing and theft by taking. She stands accused of creating a culture where cheating to raise test scores was encouraged. Hall maintains her innocence.

Millicent Few, former human resources officer; school resource directors Michael Pitts and Sharon Davis-Williams; and Christopher Waller, ex-principal of Parks Middle School where seven teachers confesses to cheating, are among those also accused of racketeering and false swearing. Davis-Williams and Waller are also accused of making false statements. Pitts also faces charges of influencing a witness.

Fulton County Superior Court Judge Jerry Baxter squashed an attempt in late March to dismiss the racketeering indictments against the educators. A challenge was filed alleging by defendants who alleged that the prosecutor’s cases would be fueled by coerced statements.

The Defendant Drama Continues

As APS educators await trial, two have faced health problems due to cancer diagnoses. Willie Davenport, 66, died last week of cancer. The former D.H. Stanton principal was facing criminal charges of racketeering and making false statements.

Hall also announced that she had cancer. Her Atlanta attorney confirmed reports in a statement: “As has been reported to the court in connection with her bond determination, Dr. Hall has been diagnosed with breast cancer, a serious medical condition for which she is receiving treatment. As a matter of her personal privacy, Dr. Hall does not choose to say more. On behalf of Dr. Hall, we do want to thank her many friends and supporters who have contacted her in response to these report … Please be assured that whatever her health concerns, Dr. Hall will continue to fight the charges brought against her.”

What’s Next

Educators and their attorneys will decide whether they want to endure a criminal trial and the national publicity that would come with it or make a plea deal admitting some guilt in the charges filed. Officials with the Fulton Attorney’s office would not provide an estimate of the cost to taxpayers or time that it would take to prosecute the 35 defendants.

“We have no comment on any other case specifics at this time,” said Yvette Jones, Director of Public Affairs.

Meanwhile, Deane is welcoming a trial, which he said in a statement will vindicate Hall. “She is innocent of these charges.”