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Opinion: "Fulton DA Paul Howard's my friend, but he was wrong in APS case."

Rev. Markel Hutchins, a local civil rights leader, calls Fulton District Attorney Paul Howard a ‘’long-time friend," but says he was wrong in the prosecution of educators in the APS scandal.

By Rev. Markel Hutchins

Yes, cheating happened and it should be punished but, punitive and criminal are not inherently synonymous.

The culture of cheating in Atlanta Public Schools and elsewhere in education must be addressed but a criminal court is not nearly the appropriate venue.

Let me be clear, I do not support the unfettered exoneration of those involved in the APS scandal. Educators who cheat children, and by extension society, should be fired. They should lose their certifications. They should never again be able to teach.

However, to criminalize educational accountability is wrong for Atlanta and for America. The APS investigation should have been conducted by the professional body that licenses teachers not a politically-motivated district attorney.

Worst of all, to persecute and sentence educators for racketeering or "RICO" is disgustingly profane. They made mistakes and extremely bad decisions still, how does our criminal justice system credibly hold twelve people responsible for a completely broken system of public education.

Violent criminals in Atlanta have won a perpetual victory since this case ensued because many of their crimes have gone untried and unpunished as the Fulton County District Attorney chose to spend millions of dollars on a case that brought neither solution nor resolution instead of spending those taxpayer dollars putting hardened, violent criminals behind bars.

This case is not about race but about justice.

The educators sentenced yesterday were all willing to accept responsibility for their actions and omissions. They were willing to offer public apologies. They were willing to acknowledge what they'd actually done but they were courageously unwilling to stand in court and falsely proclaim to the judge that they were racketeers merely to feed the hefty ego and political appetite of the prosecutor.

Why was it necessary for them to pronounce their own guilt after they'd been found guilty by a jury in order for them to receive lighter sentences? Such a public proclamation was demanded by the district attorney (not the judge) for his agenda -- not the public good.

This complex quagmire is more about public policy and public culture than it is about personal indiscretions. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. suggested, "crimes will be committed when there is darkness but the responsible parties aren't just those who committed the crimes but also those who created the darkness."

Judge Jerry Baxter pronounced sentence upon the entire Atlanta Public Schools system and is requiring 11 sacrificial lambs to pay a harsh price for the "crimes" of many. That ain't justice!

The real scoundrel here is Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard, a long-time friend of mine. Children, educators, families, businesses, Judge Baxter and public education in the United States of America are all victims of Mr. Howard's dubious actions.

Indeed, this was not a victimless situation.


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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.