Atlanta educator sentencing postponed to Tuesday with plea deal offer
- Ten of the 11 Atlanta educators found guilty of racketeering, along with a handful of felony theft and false statements charges, were offered last-minute deals prior to sentencing Monday morning.
- Judge Jerry Baxter reportedly told a defense lawyer "I'm not giving these folks 20 years" but also noted that the sentence he had in mind would mean jail time for all. Following four hours of testimony from several character witnesses and an hour-long lunch break, the remainder of the sentencing was postponed until 10 AM Tuesday.
- The 11th educator, Shani Robinson, was pregnant when a verdict was reached two weeks ago and is currently set for sentencing in August.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported the proposed plea deals as follows:
- Michael Pitts, Tamara Cotman, and Sharon Davis Williams would spend weekends in jail for a year, pay a $10,000 fine, complete five years of probation and community service, waive any appeal, and issue an apology
- Dana Evans, Angela Williamson, Donald Bullock, and Tabeeka Jordan would spend weekends in jail for six months, pay a $5,000 fine, complete five years of probation and community service, and issue an apology
- Pam Cleveland, Diane Buckner-Webb, and Theresa Copeland would serve a year of home confinement with limited freedom during the day, pay a $1,000 fine, complete five years of probation and community service, waive any appeal, and issue an apology
The educators involved initially faced sentences of as much as 20 years, with the additional felony charges — including false statements and theft, for which the jury returned mixed verdicts — potentially bringing an additional five to 10 years each, so the deals will likely allow them to breathe a sigh of relief. Reuters reports that the judge was implored last week by Bernice King, daughter of Martin Luther King Jr., to save those convicted from serving prison time.
Under the original sentences, those found guilty, who have been in jail since the verdict was reached, would have essentially been used to set a harsh example for other educators tempted to cheat on high-stakes standardized exams. While the deals offered don't let the educators involved off the hook, they do still serve that purpose.
For many, however, the case has served as an example of the pitfalls of the nation's high-stakes standardized testing culture and the negative outcomes related to pressure from tying teacher evaluations to test results. The argument here is that such a system merely creates incentive for educators to try and game the system to save their jobs (and to merely continue teaching to the test instead of providing more well-rounded educations). Baxter at one point called Dana Evans' case "probably the biggest tragedy," acknowledging the amount of pressure those involved were under. He later recognized "a faction of the community that wants me to throw the book at everybody," adding that the trial overall was one of the most difficult things he's ever ruled on. "You've been punished a good bit so far," he told the defendants.
For an in-depth look at how the scandal played out in Atlanta's Parks Middle School, check out the New Yorker's "Wrong Answer."
- The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Live feed of sentencing in APS cheating case
- The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Guilty Atlanta educators offered deal before sentencing
- NBC 11 Alive Last-minute deals offered to convicted APS educators
- Reuters Atlanta educators in cheating scandal due for sentencing
Follow Roger Riddell on Twitter