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APS educators learn fate today. Should it be prison?

UPDATE Monday morning:

WSB reports a deal may been struck on amount of jail time:

 A deal negotiated by the prosecution and defense lawyers will be recommend by each side when Judge Jerry Baxter takes the bench Monday for sentencing, according to the news station.

The offer for Michael Pitts, Tamara Cotman and Sharon Davis Williams is one year in jail, a $10,000 fine, 5 years of probation and community service in exchange for acceptance of responsibility, a waiver of appeal and an apology. The offer for Dana Evans, Angela Williamson, Donald Bullock and Tabeeka Jordan is six months of weekends in jail, a $5,000 fine, 5 years of probation and community service in exchange for acceptance of responsibility and an apology. The offer for Pam Cleveland, Diane Buckner-Webb and Theresa Copeland is one year of home confinement in which they would have some freedom of movement during the day, a $1,000 fine, five years of probation and community service in exchange for acceptance of responsibility, a waiver of appeal and an apology.

Back to original blog:

The APS defendants are supposed to learn their fates Monday. They face possible prison sentences of five to 20 years because of the seriousness of the racketeering charges.

In the last week, a fierce national debate has erupted over whether the Atlanta educators deserve prison time for tampering with CRCT answer sheets.

We have had that same debate here on the blog.

That's what occurred in Dougherty County. In the state's review of CRCT answer sheets, Atlanta had the most suspicious number of wrong to right erasures, followed by  Dougherty County, a 16,000-student district in south Georgia.

The 2011 state investigation found 49 educators there were involved in testing misconduct, and 18 confessed. But no one is going to jail in Dougherty. The AJC reported last week:

Unlike Atlanta, no Dougherty teachers were indicted. Prosecutors found no evidence of a conspiracy to cheat.

The state's Professional Standards Commission revoked the license of one Dougherty teacher. Twenty more received suspensions ranging from 40 days to three years. The PSC reprimanded five other teachers and issued warnings to two others. The PSC found no probable cause to discipline 17 teachers. One teacher's case is pending and another is awaiting judicial review.

In the Sunday editorial, the AJC argued against lengthy jail sentences for the Atlanta educators.

Editorial page editor Andre Jackson wrote: (This is an excerpt.)

This Editorial Board's urging of compassion at sentencing should not be taken as dialing down the severity of what a jury has now found to be a reprehensible, far-reaching conspiracy of wrongdoing. Far from it. Vulnerable children were harmed by this cheating and, short of divine intervention, there seems no way to fully address the damage done. The full sweep of the injury visited on kids, APS, public education in general and society is hard to fathom.

Yet, all of that taken together does not make for an offense worthy of sending wayward educators to prison for decades, where they would unproductively fester alongside violent offenders whose sentences more aptly fit their crimes.

We won't condemn Baxter if he deems the APS defendants worthy of spending some additional period of time in jumpsuits and behind bars. The call of justice would seem to demand, though, that prison sentences be measured at most in months or single-digit sums of years. Decades of incarceration would be cruelly excessive in our view, and out of proportion with sentences routinely handed down for similar offenses. Especially when considering also that public humiliation, financial decimation, loss of career livelihood and forfeiting of pensions are significant punishments in their own right.

In an AJC news story on the national discussion over appropriate sentences, the AJC’s Jaime Sarrio and Eric Stirgus wrote: (Again, this is a short excerpt.)

Chicago-based Boyce Watkins, who posts YouTube videos geared toward black audiences, put together 17 minutes of comments about the APS trial that have been viewed more than 10,000 times. He said the educators were chasing “meaningless” measuring sticks like No Child Left Behind and said America’s education system “is the real criminal in all of this.

“I don’t understand for one second why you would give a damn schoolteacher five to 20 years in prison unless they molested someone, unless they shot somebody, unless they robbed a bank. That’s what state prisons are for,” Watkins said in the video. “They’re not supposed to be for schoolteachers who maybe pressured other teachers into erasing some answers on a standardized test.”

Richard Quartarone, co-president of the Southeast Atlanta Communities for Schools, an advocacy group in Atlanta’s Maynard Jackson High School cluster, in which cheating occurred, believes prison is necessary for those convicted. By cheating, he said, the educators reinforced negative perceptions that students cannot succeed.

“An entire generation lost the opportunity for a public education,” said Quartarone, who has two sons in a charter school under APS. “If there is anything that is more frustrating, I don’t know what is.”





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About the Author

Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.