It is clear from the last-minute indictment, on the eve of the statute of limitations, that Fulton County does not have a case against the educators who were accused of cheating.
The Fulton County District Attorney’s office, known for “indicting a ham sandwich” less than a week after the accused has been arrested, has taken four years to figure out what charges to file against the Atlanta Public School educators. More than two senior assistant district attorneys have fled after being assigned to the case against the APS educators. With three attorneys, a team of investigators, several paralegals and staff all assigned to the Atlanta Public Schools case for four years, the DA’s office is slapping down a pieced-together indictment it will never be able to prove. If these senior attorneys who have been with Fulton for decades can’t prosecute this case, then there isn’t a case.
The questions everyone wants answered are: who will be charged and what are the charges?
As to the who, it will prove interesting to see if the then-top brass of APS will be held responsible. Can DA Paul Howard get evidence against Beverly Hall and her top staff members? It is doubtful there is any evidence Hall, or anyone other than teachers, made an official call or put their hands on actual tests. On the other hand, the majority of the teachers were granted immunity in exchange for their testimony and remain the only ones with hard evidence against themselves and the others; yet this majority likely will not be among the indictees.
Then, there are the middle players — the principals. The principals, who, like Hall, more than likely had no direct contact with tests, nor direct calls to cheat, are the least likely to be found culpable. The GBI report is rife with contradictions from one witness to the next. Just days ago, 21 principals were rehired after years of proving they did not cheat. If they were wrongly accused, who else is a victim of the massive game of “point the finger?” The other principals unable to afford legal expenses and others who were so insulted by the accusations face the possibility of indictment simply because they did not fight.
Unfortunately, there isn’t a charge for feeling pressured to meet standards set by a State commission functioning on a minuscule budget. So what can they be charged with? There is no state law that is applicable, which is likely the main reason for the delay. Howard pressured and traded for people to turn state’s evidence against Hall and the higher-ups and it looks like, from the extended delay, that never happened.
Considering what is going on with Gov. [Nathan] Deal, who just replaced the DeKalb [County] School Board, you would think all Georgia public school systems would want to stay out of the public light. If I were Mayor [Kasim] Reed or the Atlanta School Board members, I would be begging Howard to let the scandal die a quiet death. Once teachers, principals and administrators start to testify, the whole truth about Atlanta’s school system will be fully open to the public.
If people thought that the special investigator’s report was bad, that will be nothing compared to what defense attorneys around the city will put front and center. Atlantans, get ready for your property values to plummet because no one will touch APS after this. All the school board members who were around in 2009: beware. If in-fighting was enough to oust members in DeKalb, the blind eye that was turned to the alleged quasi-criminal activity will be more than enough to toss APS board members out, too. That is going to be sadder considering no one will likely get convicted, as no state law has been broken. For months, teachers will be glued to court TV instead of thinking of lesson plans. Yet again, the children will be the victims of a broken system. The case is circumstantial at best and a complete loser at worst. It’s time to let it go.
LaDawn Blackett Jones
The LBJ Group LLC, Atlanta