First punishments handed down in APS cheating scandal

12:22 AM, Oct 14, 2011   |    comments
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ATLANTA -- Georgia's Professional Standards Commission issued punishments to 11 educators implicated in the Atlanta Public Schools cheating scandal Thursday afternoon.

Eight teachers were given a two-year suspension of their teaching certificates, while three administrators had their certificates revoked.

"There are certain actions that taint the integrity of our profession, and cheating would be one of those," said Kelly Henson of the PSC.  "No matter what your thoughts are on high-stakes testing, nothing gives one the right to cheat."

Each of the 11 will receive a formal letter from the PSC next week, outlining the moves against them and giving each educator 30 days to respond to the PSC's actions. Each educator will have the option to accept the punishment or to fight it.

Many of them already are trying to make the case that the punishment is unjust.

They can't wait to have their day in court.

An attorney for some of the teachers, Borquaye Thomas, told 11Alive's Jon Shirek Thursday that the Professional Standards Commission is taking away teachers' licenses based only on what he called the unproven hearsay that makes up, he said, much of the governor's report on the cheating.

"What information, what evidence, does the PSC have? And I submit to you that they have absolutely nothing. And so when you ask, was their investigation thorough, the question is, what investigation did they do, besides reading the report? Have they talked to any potential witnesses, have they spoken to any teachers, have they spoken to any students, have they spoken to our teachers -- our clients?  The answer is no.... I think that, on a case by case basis, there are individuals who probably should not be implicated at all.  And there are individuals who, perhaps, deserve a suspension.  But without evidence, without proving anything, without question a one-year suspension, a two-year suspension, or a revocation, is unwaranted."

If the educator chooses to fight the action, the case would then proceed to the office of Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens, which would then assign an administrative law judge to hold a public hearing where lawyers for the PSC and for the educator would argue the case.

After the judge renders a ruling, the losing side would be able to appeal any decision to the superior court. The case would then proceed through the general legal system as any other case would.

The names of the educators remain private for now. If the educator chooses to accept the actions of the PSC, that educator's name and full record would become public at that point. If the educator chooses to fight, the educator's name would not be revealed until the attorney general's office assigns a judge to the case.

If an educator's case is fought, the case could take as long as one to two years to completely wind out.

There are nearly 200 cases that the Professional Standards Commission is looking at in connection with the APS cheating scandal -- including ex-superintendent Dr. Beverly Hall.

The decisions voted on Thursday are the first cases under review, according to PSC spokesman Rick Eiserman. The commission expects to hear more cases at meetings each month through January.

In each case, the commission can issue a range of punishments, from a warning to a certificate revocation. Those punishments are separate from any possible criminal charges and move by APS to fire the teachers.

About 180 Atlanta Public Schools employees were implicated in the scandal after a state investigation revealed cheating in nearly half of the district's 100 schools.

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