x
Breaking News
More () »

Atlanta's Leading Local News: Weather, Traffic, Sports and more | Atlanta, Georgia | 11alive.com

APS educators speak out, but what's next?

They all filed in together – seven former APS educators, all found guilty in the cheating scandal, all facing jail time.
Seven of the convicted APS educators and their attorneys came together to speak to the media on Friday, April 17, 2015.

ATLANTA (WXIA) -- They all filed in together – seven former APS educators, all found guilty in the cheating scandal, all facing jail time.

They and their lawyers wanted to give their side of the story – and they did, proclaiming their innocence and saying they are facing financial ruin after a controversial and seemingly endless seven-month long trial.

"You see our names and Google us," said Dana Evans. "It's like we're America's Most Wanted."

Evans and six of her colleagues are highly educated professionals. Now, they are also convicted felons.

"Being handcuffed and in shackles, hearing those years, I was afraid," said Angela Williamson.

All seven say they had never even considered taking the sentencing deal offered by Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard.

"I would not have taken a deal that would force me to perjure myself," said Tamara Cotman.

The group said they spoke out on Friday because, they want the public to see their human sides. They said they loved their students and jobs, and they did not cheat.

"I thought out students could do the work," said Michael Pitts.

All seven said they plan to appeal the court's verdict, despite the fact that they are broke, unemployed, and somewhat disillusioned with the legal process that landed them here while others go free.

"I know some of the teachers who cheated are back in the classroom," said Evans.

While there's been much focus on the convicted educators, some worry there is not enough attention being paid to the children who were hurt by the cheating.

There are some who feel stiff sentences for the educators do not make sense in a justice system with already overcrowded jails and prisons.

The convicted educators walked out of the Fulton County Jail Tuesday night, hoping they will never return to a lock-up, believing their sentences would be overturned on appeal.

But not everyone wants to see things end that way.

"I, with the judge, wanted them to take responsibility, and was very disappointed that most of them took the deal the district attorney offered them," said Shawna Haynes-Tavares, a parent of an APS student.

Retired Fulton County Sheriff's Lieutenant Charles Rambo says he recalls what the late superintendent, Beverly Hall, told him years ago: "Referencing that 3rd grade test scores are the indicator of how many bed spaces are going to be built over a 25-year period."

Reading scores being used to determine prison bed space? That citation and statistic has since been slammed as an urban myth, but uneducated children are at higher risk of getting into trouble.

Judge Jerry Baxter referenced the connection while sentencing the educators.

"The only chance they had was the school, to get an education," Baxter said. "And when you can't read, you're passed on and passed on. There are victims that are in the jail that I have sentenced. Kids."

The DA's office plans for a "Redemption Academy" to help the nearly 6,000 kids hurt by years of cheating in the school system. The hope is the convicted teachers would help tutor the students.

"Let's make it restorative," said Rambo. "Make them come back here and deal with the people that were neglected."

Given the long appeals process, it could be years before any of them find themselves, once again, behind bars.