All but one of 10 former Atlanta public school educators were sentenced to jail time Tuesday in a widespread conspiracy to inflate student scores on the state's standardized tests, and the judge called the case "the sickest thing that's ever happened in this town."
Fulton County Superior Court Judge Jerry Baxter had delayed sentencing by a day and encouraged all to negotiate deal with prosecutors. But only two agreed to deals. In both those cases, Baxter followed the state's recommendations: He gave a former teacher one year of home confinement and a former testing coordinator six months of weekends spent in jail.
The remaining eight received harsher sentences, with three of them well beyond prosecutors' recommendations. The sentences ranged from serving one to seven years in jail.
But those eight can appeal within 30 days, and they can be out of jail on bond while the appeals are pending. Those who took the deals — former teacher Pamela Cleveland and former testing coordinator Donald Bullock — waived their right to appeal. They also agreed to apologize to students, parents, and the court.
During sentencing, Baxter called the cheating "pervasive."
"It's like the sickest thing that's ever happened in this town," he said.
A state investigation found that as far back as 2005, educators from the 50,000-student Atlanta school system fed answers to students or erased and changed answers on tests after they were turned in. Evidence of cheating was found in 44 schools with nearly 180 educators involved, and teachers who tried to report it were threatened with retaliation.
In 2013, 35 educators were indicted on charges including racketeering, making false statements and theft. Many pleaded guilty before the trial, and some testified at the months-long trial. The jury acquitted one of the 12 former educators who went to trial and convicted the other 11 on a racketeering charge.
Former Superintendent Beverly Hall was among those indicted, but she did not stand trial because her lawyers argued successfully that she was too sick. She died from complications of breast cancer.
The 11th convicted former educator had a baby over the weekend and will be sentenced later.