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21 APS cheating defendants sidestep prison time

8:31 PM, Feb 21, 2014   |    comments
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Sandra Ward

ATLANTA -- The Atlanta Public Schools cheating trial is now shaping up as a case involving as many as 13 defendants. The trial will happen in May. The last of the defendants pleading guilty to lesser charges met a deadline to do so Friday.

Two more defendants - numbers 20 and 21 - entered guilty pleas on Friday. By doing so, they avoided a lengthy trial and like the rest of the defendants who have pleaded guilty, escaped any jail time. The headliner was the former principal at Parks Middle School.

Investigators described Christopher Waller as a bully who intimidated staff to cheat. At his direction, prosecutors say staff changed the answers on standardized CRCT tests - and covered up when investigators began asking questions. One of the staff was Sandra Ward, who pleaded guilty to making false statements. She got a year probation and has to return a $5,000 bonus she got as an incentive to drive up test scores.

"I orchestrated cheating by several teachers, and fostered a culture of cheating that continued even after I was not at the school," Waller told the court in a prepared statement after agreeing to the guilty plea.

Waller got five years probation - and has to pay $50,000 in fines and restitution. 

Prosecutors say former Superintendent Beverly Hall encouraged and protected Waller - even when scores at his school spiked unrealistically. 

Waller said the test score targets she set were impossible. 

"There was no way we could keep up with targets. The targets were unattainable. At least not by legitimate means," Waller said. "So we cheated to attain the targets. And then many of us, not the least of which was me, tried to cover up this conduct."

Waller had no direct evidence against Dr. Hall, who is expected to take her chances with a jury, along with a dozen other defendants, at the trial that starts in May.

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