Trial underway in Atlanta schools cheating case

Atlanta School Cheating Trial
Defendants and their attorneys listen as Fulton County Superior Court Judge Jerry Baxter presides over a hearing in Atlanta on Wednesday, Sept. 3, 2014 to discuss defense attorneys’ contentions that African Americans are under-represented in the jury pool for the Atlanta Public Schools cheating case. (AP Photo/Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Kent D. Johnson)

ATLANTA (AP) — An attorney for a former Atlanta Public Schools principal accused in a cheating scandal says his client was a dedicated educator who made enemies when she encouraged change at an elementary school.
In opening statements, Robert Rubin told jurors in Fulton County Superior Court that teachers at Dobbs Elementary lied when they told state investigators Dana Evans was aware of cheating. Rubin is the first of seven defense attorneys expected to address the jury before prosecutors begin their case.
Earlier, Prosecutor Fani Willis said the 12 defendants were part of a widespread but cleverly disguised conspiracy to inflate state test scores that affected thousands of students.
The former APS staffers face racketeering charges first announced more than a year ago. Former Superintendent Beverly Hall isn’t among them; her trial was delayed because she is being treated for breast cancer.
Prosecutors said 12 former Atlanta Public Schools educators and administrators cheated, lied and stole as part of a widespread but cleverly disguised conspiracy to inflate state test scores that affected thousands of students as opening statements began Monday morning, more than a year after prosecutors indicted 35 staffers in a school cheating scandal that shocked the national education community.
Prosecutor Fani Willis told jurors in Fulton County Superior Court that in the coming weeks, they will hear from current and former APS students, teachers, parents and administrators, describing a high-pressure culture created by former Superintendent Beverly Hall’s focus on test results.
A dozen former administrators, principals, testing coordinators and teachers face racketeering charges. Hall, who has been diagnosed with breast cancer, is not among them. A judge delayed her trial due to her illness. She has long denied any knowledge of cheating.
Prosecutors have agreed to plea deals with 21 other defendants included in the initial indictment. Willis said many will testify against their former colleagues, including top administrators who worked in Hall’s central office and parents who were told “the results are the results” when they questioned better-than-expected performance by their kids.
Before walking jurors through a timeline of the accusations and a slew of education acronyms, Willis said children and parents will answer the question: “Why does this matter?”
She said the mother of a girl who began second grade in 2004 and exceeded expectations on the state exam a year later, even as she struggled in school and was diagnosed with a learning disability, tried to get her daughter extra help. But, Willis said, the girl’s performance on the exam disqualified her.
“Parents, they had false impressions of what their children were doing,” she said. “So at crucial and critical times, they lost their ability to help their children.”
The trial is expected to last months. It took six weeks to seat a jury. One juror was excused before statements began Monday, leaving 10 alternates.

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