Atlanta school cheating suspects begin to surrender
(CNN) — The trickle began before daylight on Tuesday, as the first of 35 educators indicted in a cheating scandal that rocked Atlanta Public Schools turned themselves in to the Fulton County Jail.
Tameka Goodson came first. The Kennedy Middle School instructional coach turned herself in just after midnight on Tuesday, CNN affiliate WXIA reported. She is charged with racketeering and making false statements in writing. Her bond was set at $200,000.
“This is the closest she’s ever been to a jail in her life,” Goodson’s attorney, Raymond Lail, told CNN affiliate WXIA. Lail said Goodson, an educator for about 20 years, is “absolutely not guilty of these charges.”
Then came Donald Bullock, a testing coordinator at Usher/Collier Heights Elementary School who is accused of asking educators to falsify test results and lying about his involvement, the indictment said. He was charged with racketeering and making false statements. His bond was set at $1 million.
Theresia Copeland, a testing coordinator at Benteen Elementary School, is accused of lying about her involvement in cheating and accepting a bonus check based on falsified results, the indictment said. She was charged with racketeering, making false statements and theft by taking. Her bond was set at $1 million.
Gregory Reid, a middle school assistant principal, was charged with racketeering, false swearing and false statements. His bond was also set at $1 million.
Sandra Ward, a middle school testing coordinator, Humphries Elementary School teachers Lisa Terry and Ingrid Abella-Sly, Parks Middle School teacher Starlette Mitchell and Dobbs Elementary School teacher Angela Williamson also turned themselves in, Fulton County Sheriff spokeswoman Tracy Flanagan said.
A Fulton County grand jury indicted the 35 educators following a state investigation into Atlanta schools’ large, unexplained tests score gains, first reported by the The Atlanta Journal-Constitution newspaper. The bond amounts were set by grand jurors.
A state review determined that some cheating had occurred in more than half of the district’s elementary and middle schools. About 180 teachers were initially implicated. Cheating is believed to date back to early 2001, according to the indictment, when standardized testing scores began to turn around in the 50,000-student school district.
For at least four years, between 2005 and 2009, test answers were altered, fabricated and falsely certified, the indictment said.
Among those indicted was Beverly Hall, the former schools superintendent who gained national recognition in 2009 for turning around Atlanta’s school system. Hall has denied any role in the cheating scandal.
Hall resigned from her position in 2011 following the state investigation, which lambasted her leadership and found widespread cheating in dozens of Atlanta schools.
Educators and community members reacted Tuesday to the charges.
“The Atlanta school community is obviously very upset about this,” Stephen J. Alford, Atlanta Public Schools’ executive director of communications, said. “I don’t want to pass judgment on the people, but we’ve had a lot of parents who wanted to express their disappointment.”
In a statement, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten and Georgia Federation of Teachers President Verdaillia Turner wrote, “We do not condone cheating under any circumstances. Academic achievement can never be separated from academic integrity, which is why the Georgia Federation of Teachers was the first whistle-blower to expose Atlanta testing irregularities.
“Tragically, the Atlanta cheating scandal harmed our children and it crystallizes the unintended consequences of our test-crazed policies.”