Opinion: Real APS scandal is allowing schools to fail for decades

Oglethorpe University President Lawrence M. Schall is a former trial attorney, specializing in civil rights litigation. He holds a law degree from the University of Pennsylvania.

He shared his reaction to the APS sentencing today.

By Lawrence M. Schall

I will admit I wasn’t able to watch every minute of the two-day APS sentencing, but I watched enough to be justifiably appalled at the behavior of our judicial system.

Oglethorpe President Lawrence Schall is a former trial attorney.

Oglethorpe President Lawrence Schall is a former trial attorney.

By the time I tuned in on day one, Fulton County Superior Court Judge Jerry Baxter was profusely apologizing for an outburst. It appeared he was driven to rage at the deals the prosecutor had offered those defendants who had dared avail themselves of the right to trial.

When it became obvious there were actually no deals to be announced, the judge made it clear fury and vengeance were on their way. In fact, he acknowledged his forthcoming sentences were about exacting vengeance.

In one more fit of anger, he told everyone to be back in an hour so he could hand down the sentences right then and there. Even the prosecutors seemed to realize this timetable made little sense, and the judge quickly backtracked, giving the parties the night to see if any deals could be had.

Before everyone left his courthouse, however, he made sure one last time (at least for this day) that each defendant knew not taking a deal would be a huge mistake.

I don’t have a particular opinion on whether the deals offered were fair or not. If one thought the trial was fair and the convictions appropriate, then I don’t think the deals were unreasonable on their face. Then, again, I am not the one having to plead guilty to a felony and face jail time.

Regardless of what I think, though, it’s clear every attorney save one (eventually two) didn’t believe the offers to be in their client’s best interests. The key point here is that accepting any offer involved giving up all rights to appeal and clearly defense counsel believed they have strong grounds for a successful appeal. I suspect they are right.

A night’s sleep didn’t seem to lessen any of Judge Baxter’s anger and frustration. One by one, the defendants got up to be sentenced. The three senior administrators had their heads handed to them. Judge Baxter didn’t find the prosecutor’s recommendation of three years jail time to be vengeful enough and he sentenced them all to seven years.

You could just feel his disappointment in not being able to nail the alleged ringleader of the conspiracy, Dr. Beverly Hall. She managed to escape his wrath, but he wasn’t going to allow her death to take away his opportunity to express his anger, outrage, and vengeance.

Then came the others. For the most part, with these defendants, Judge Baxter accepted the prosecutor’s recommendations, but he refused to grant first offender status despite the fact every defendant was a first-time offender.

This status allows a convict, after completing her sentence, to apply to have the conviction wiped off her record and start life over again with at least some kind of a clean slate. I wasn’t entirely sure of his rationale for denying this status except that Judge Baxter was in no mood for leniency.

But then, as if struck by a lightning bolt, he amended the sentences he had just imposed (except for the three senior administrators, of course) and granted first offender status.

For goodness sake, this trial has been going on for months. These defendants were convicted weeks ago. It surely seemed to me the judge was making this all up as he went along.

While I suppose it made for good TV, I kept thinking these are the fate of people’s lives he is deciding, and I wish he would have at least appeared to be more reasoned and more thoughtful as he did so.

This entire course of events has been a tragedy. There are people, some who faced trial, some who pleaded guilty, and others who were not charged, who behaved badly. I have no doubt about that. I don’t happen to think those who faced trial were more to blame than many who avoided being tried.

And today, several years after these events occurred, our schools are still failing and we are still failing our children. I personally don’t believe what happened today in court matters one iota in the grand scheme of things.

As a community, we have allowed our public schools to fail to adequately educate our less advantaged children for decade upon decade. I wish Judge Baxter and others would be as outraged about that scandal as they have been about this one.

 

Reader Comments 0

114 comments
dcdcdc
dcdcdc

Actually, the real scandal is NOT what you state.  Its forcing kids and their parents/guardians to be stuck in a failing school - without giving them the option to move to a better educational environment. 


Only competition will improve our schools.  Just like it does in colleges - where students get to choose the college that best suits their needs.  


Can you imagine telling all Kennesaw residents that they have to go to Kennesaw State - just because they live there?  Lunacy.  But somehow our current status quo eduacracy thinks this is a good approach for k-12.  Insanity.

Beverly Hall
Beverly Hall

Lawd Jesus, some people are saying that the whole city of the A-T-L has been sinking for years.  It all started years ago with my friend and brotha, May-may Jackson and continued with that Bill "Dolla Bill" Campbell and Shirley "dont call me a lesbian" Franklin.   Lawd help us all ! 

AllanJuiffre
AllanJuiffre

Well for one thing a Judge does not write the law just enforces from his bench, what ever the jury decides. But that aside he was quite angry and was without much patience. The arrogance on the part of the teachers was no help at all in their case..However there is a large area that would have solved the sentencing problem and that is in community service helping to repair the damage they have caused to these young students.Suspend most of the sentence and have them tutor and assist in schools through  out Atlanta.

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@AllanJuiffre 

 Who would trust them not to take out their anger on those they are tutoring?! If I were the parent of one of those "young students," I would not want them around my child.

✨MissAmiaSays✨
✨MissAmiaSays✨

These teachers and Administration knew what they were doing. What is getting lost in this all is: instead of making an effort to teach these children- they put the resources into changing scores.

khd713
khd713

I have no stake in this except that I have a child in an APS school. I have to agree with this piece, based on my limited observations of the trial and, especially, the sentencings. This judge is seriously lacking in professionalism – his mannerisms and the way he would address the defense attorneys was not appropriate for a court of law. Worse, he is a poor speaker who appears to have a very limited vocabulary that hampers his ability to communicate effectively. Anyone with a law degree who has reached the level that Judge Baxter has reached should have a strong command of language and understand the importance of words, and the power of using the right words at the right time. The practice of law is all about precise written and verbal communication, and this judge falls far short in that department, especially the verbal piece. Several of the defense attorneys were equally poor speakers, and it just gave the entire proceeding an unprofessional feeling – low-rent attorneys practicing in front of a low-rent judge.


Finally, I thought the punishments handed out did not fit the crime. Seven years in prison is extremely excessive, even if the defendants passed up a plea deal. What is the justification for sentencing a first-time, non-violent offender to seven years in prison? Isn't seven years a sentence more appropriately reserved for manslaughter and major financial fraud? This cheating scandal does not rise to that level – not even close. Don't get me wrong, because I definitely think these "educators" need to pay a severe price for what they did, but I think probation, home confinement, community service, financial fines, and the loss of their jobs are pretty severe penalties for anyone. My personal opinion is that Judge Baxter wasn't pulling the strings here at all. My belief is that he was acting on marching orders straight from the Governor's office and the Legislature, and was told in no uncertain terms to make an example of these people. And so he did. I guess we'll see if it holds up on appeal.

SJGM
SJGM

@khd713 I KNOW that Judge Baxter is NOBODY's robot. He doesn't answer to the government or anyone. He is a fair-minded judge and a decent man. He was pained to see this happen to our community, to these innocent children. He gave these people REPEAT times to just admit their guilt, to own their misdeeds and he would show them mercy! He even let them get a 'taste' of what jail is like, with the immediate incarceration after the verdicts last week, but even that wasn't enough for them to wake up.

If you can't say 'I did it,' 'I'm sorry'...and recognize when someone is trying to give you a break (even amidst your horrific wrongdoing), then, to be that wrong AND and that stupid...you deserve what you get...as did these arrogant, egotistic, narcissistic, self-serving educators who wronged these children. Shame on anyone who has sympathy for THEM but expresses NONE for the kids who were damaged.

CaptDave
CaptDave

This case demonstrates what happens when arrogance and stupidity intersect.


I've known Judge Baxter since he was appointed to the State Court bench when I was first starting to practice law. I appeared before him several times and found him to be a solid jurist. He is anything but a "hangman's judge" and he tends to err on the side of giving lawyers and litigants the benefit of the doubt and flexibility in his court. 


Clearly, these so-called "educators" had EVERY opportunity to do the right thing; first in taking a moral stand that the cheating was wrong and harmful to the students who ultimately suffered, then once the cheating was uncovered, they had the opportunity to recognize that the scheme was wrong and harmful and take responsibility for their failures and correct their mistakes as requested by the Governor's Office of Education BEFORE Governor Purdue ordered his investigation. Instead, they chose to deny that any cheating had occurred and some even had the arrogance to cover it up. Next, they all had the opportunity to plead to lesser misdemeanor charges and receive first offender status which would have eliminated any criminal record provided that they comply with the terms of their deal. Many of the "educators" wisely decided to accept responsibility and they are free and getting on with their lives without a criminal record. Those who arrogantly chose to go to trial risked everything by making that decision. Now they are going to pay the consequences because their Criminal RICO convictions will be upheld on appeal (because the foremost authority on Civil and Criminal RICO assisted the Fulton County DA during the trial). The lawyers who represented all but one of the "educators" did their clients a tremendous disservice by not recognizing the threat of the Criminal RICO charges (similar to daring someone pointing a gun at you to shoot) and recommending plea deals before trial.


Judge Baxter made sure that all of the "educators" received a fair trial as required by the State and US Constitutions and now people don't like the outcome or don't think its fair. Eleven of twelve "educators" were convicted after an eight month trial and then those convicted had one last opportunity to avoid significant jail time by taking the lenient plea deals offered by the Fulton DA (which after an eight trial and Criminal RICO convictions were quite surprising especially given the potential prison sentences available under this statute). This is exactly what happens when arrogance and stupidity intersect.  

nola2atl
nola2atl

has kasim given APS the money the city owes it, since we're caring about APS kids now?

Infraredguy
Infraredguy

@nola2atl Why should he do that when its needed for the Beltline, the savior of the City, to hell with the APS, the kids are all stupid just like the " Educators " said

whoa-nelly
whoa-nelly

its easy for you to sit and pass judgement, you call yourself a "civil rights" expert..yeah right you are an expert at deceiving and giving false hope to the black community as an "enabler" allowing pizz-poor excuses to be made by segments of the black community who care little if any about education. your task is to placate the ignorant black masses constantly reinforcing the "victimization mentality" that his crippled the black community relegating it to 2nd class status....what the "educators" did was wrong in so many ways, the most important way will not be seen for approx 10 yrs as the students who were passed along integrate into society lacking the skills necessary to become a success leaving their only option is to turn to crime reeking havoc on the black community, further feeding the forever hungry "criminal justice machine"

✨MissAmiaSays✨
✨MissAmiaSays✨

Thank you.

These poor kids..

The one thing the judge said that did not sit well with me was; "it's where they (the kids) come from" and said it wasn't their fault the kids were not learning.

Like hell it wasn't.

I don't care where you come from -- you can always learn.

tinala
tinala

When these people will be exonerated by the appeal process, they should all file charges against the Judge and take it through the Federal Court System and let them handle him for his inappropriate behavior. He was one of the most unprofessional people that I have seen and if you all think he or Sonny Perdue gives a damn if a Black child can learn, then I will sale our condo in Hilton Head for $25.00 dollars. The former Governor went after Beverly Hall with a vengence. In the report it stated there were 2 teachers who admitted cheating at a school on the northside and no charges or anything was brought against them and the investigators stated the Principal couldn't have ever known. I really wonder why these people weren't charged. The Principal Dana Evans wasn't at the school when the cheating took place; however,the still charged her. Just because, someone tell you there maybe cheating and if you never witness it the cheating for yourself, then how can they charge her of a crime.I am curious to know why charges weren't brought on these individuals and it just baffled me after reading the entire report and I did read it; because, it was mandatory for my class.

tbf1473
tbf1473

It is wrong to send educators to prison over bad tests any way.  Judging progress based on a standardized test is wrong.    

Setting up this kind of pressure based on a bad tests is wrong.

All Beverly Hall was interested in was her national awards, speaking engagements and glory.  Not the children.

Truly not good and I hope this all gets reduced or reversed on appeals. 

nola2atl
nola2atl

my question is why aren't there test proctors who come in, administer tests, seal them up, and ship them off wherever they're supposed to go to be graded? why do teachers/admins have such access to the tests in the first place?

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@nola2atl 

In many of the cases, the teachers opened the shrink-wrapped sealed tests with heated knife blades and then sealed them with heat after they had changed the student answers.

Quidocetdiscit
Quidocetdiscit

@nola2atl


Because that would cost money - and we all know, no one wants to spend any more money on education.

nola2atl
nola2atl

if YOUR child is 16 and can't read the words on a cereal box, it's not just the teacher that is the problem....

PJ25
PJ25

@nola2atl But the teacher(s) is part of the problem anyway. 

JohnathanMarshall
JohnathanMarshall

@nola2atl If your child is 16 & can't read its 100% the parents fault.  I don't care what is happening at school there is no way I would allow my child to be that far behind period.

Thunderbolt1989
Thunderbolt1989

@JohnathanMarshall @nola2atl Simply reading to your child for 5-10 minutes a night for the first 3-4 years of life, that child will be reading before Kindergarten.  if you don't have 5-10 minutes, then you need to re-evaluate your time.  even if you have 3-4 kids.

whoa-nelly
whoa-nelly

@nola2atl

don't forget the most important factor....if your child can't read the cereal box, it might be because the sorry aizz trifling parents can't read it either and placing more value on making sure their ghetto kids have the latest nike's as opposed to making sure the child can add 2+2, so it is not always the teachers fault itake sorry aizz parents, a corrupt educational system-that values federal money for useless and ineffective programs over teaching children the 3 R's, and teachers and administrators who willfully promote students who are clearly unprepared and you have the educational system in most black communities who turn out students qualified to do nothing but commit crimes, go to jail, collect welfare, have illegimate baby after baby, and kill one another lacking the educational, intellectual, and social skills necessary to be a success

AdamRich
AdamRich

@Andy123 @nola2atl Andy apparently you have never been in a classroom.  I have been there so I know that the teachers are not the ones to blame.  Take a look at some of these videos online that the kids make in class.  These students have no respect for the teachers or for each other.  And why is that?  It is because the parents do not hold them to a standard of respecting other people.  You can stand in front of a class and attempt to teach, but you are subject to constant disruptions.  Because of this, even those that want to learn can't.  I don't even understand why homework is still part of the curriculum because most of the students do not do it anyway.  Fail the student you say?  Well that is not allowed.  It will get sent back to you to be changed.  You have to give them at least a D.  Because of this I had second year French students who could not even say Bonjour. 

Jackalope
Jackalope

Can we have another "Poor, pitiful teachers" from the AJC?  Is our premiere newspaper EVER going to show the impact of what these people did on hundreds of children?  Or are we just going to continue to pretend they were all just walking home from the movies when they were arrested for doing nothing?

bu2
bu2

@Jackalope 

Its a pretty hypocritical article.  He mentions the children in the LAST sentence.  The problem in Atlanta is there are too many people like the author who are outraged about the treatment of criminal adults and not concerned about the treatment of children and honest people.

Johnny Galt
Johnny Galt

And these are the people who are paid to teach our children what's the right thing to do? Wow!! Cheaters! 

The sentences are just and fair.  The community needs to send the message that this is not acceptable.

escapeplan
escapeplan

This judge had over six months to come to his very reasoned approach to this sentencing, not just a day or two like this author.  These "educators" committed horrible crimes against our young, robbing them of their ability to prepare themselves for life.  They enriched themselves in the process.  And many of them coerced others below them to do the same, and obstructed justice along the way.


This judge was simply looking for people to accept blame for their actions.  Now, whether this author sees some glimmer of hope in an appeal based on some legal technicality is beside the point.  These people are clearly guilty of their crimes, but hubris prevented them from admitting their crimes, and hubris will result in them spending years in jail.  

Ike Diamond
Ike Diamond

True... Just a symptom of a sick system.

Jimmie Raye
Jimmie Raye

The better option was to not take the deal offered; in appeal I am sure they will get no more than a long probation. I understand fully what they are charged with, in appeal the first order of business will be to challenge the racketeering distinction...once that is removed, the long sentences will be removed from consideration as well. Should they go to jail? IMO...no, should they ever be allowed to teach again anywhere in this country? NO! The trust has been broken.

colt07
colt07

All I know is my daughter was offered a scholarship to Ogelthorpe. Instead she went to Georgia Tech and graduated with high honors as an industrial engineer. Man am I thankful she was not involved with this liberal hack!

DownInAlbany
DownInAlbany

@colt07 My son turned down almost a $80k in scholarships at Oglethorpe, as well.  He'll graduate from UGA with a Biology degree next month.

He made the right choice.

Native_Atlantan
Native_Atlantan

WHY is everyone missing this one little fact that THE SCHOOL SYSTEMS MADE MORE MONEY FROM THE FED GOVERNMENT THAN THE TEACHERS DID.


The dangling carrot contributed to this corruption.  And believe me, it wasn't just Atlanta.  When you tie test scores to funds, you can bet your butt that executives all over the country put the pressure on their staffs to qualify.  Failure was not an option.

FIGMO2
FIGMO2

Oglethorpe University President Lawrence M. Schall is a former trial attorney, specializing in civil rights litigation.

Does Mr. Schall have an opinion on the childrens' rights?

Given all the bleeding hearts looking to exonerate these "educators", I'd have to guess they saw no hope for the children to begin with.

The soft bigotry of low expectations is, indeed, the civil rights issue of our time. Mr. Schall has missed his mark.

Astropig
Astropig

@FIGMO2


Very good point. You could make the moral argument that these educators conspired to deprive the students of the right to an "adequate education" that the law provides. Mr. Schall must think that "civil rights" protect only the people that he can make a buck off of.

Native_Atlantan
Native_Atlantan

The least y'all could do on this educator-attacking blog is spell things correctly.


The hypocrisy is mind-numbing.  Apparently this "push the child along at any cost" method of teaching has not been isolated to APS and/or the past 5 years.

PJ25
PJ25

Seeing how this sentencing ship has sailed and you diminished any credibility you had left by finding a civil rights attorney, maybe you can redeem yourself by finding an appellate attorney particularly one that specializes in RICO and Racketeering?

  I'm sure there's plenty out there that are liberals, but at least a liberal one could give us some truth as to what's coming next for those who try to appeal.  Most of us are capable of reading through the BS.

jaggar1
jaggar1

They received the sentences that they deserved. One of the attorneys stated that no one was hurt. He is obviously ignorant to the fact that children were hurt. These people who were suppose to love children and have a passion for teaching simply didn't care enough. It was about the mighty dollar for Beverly Hall and all the top executives. People need to realize that failing children are a product of failing parents. Education begins in the home, and it is a parents responsibility to make sure their children are studying, reading, practicing math facts, etc. Parents think it is only the responsibility of the school that their children learn. We are in a sad place in education. I commend those teachers who work hard every day and do the right thing for their students. 

partlycloudy
partlycloudy

The judge was  out of line for trying to give the defendants lower sentences.  Thank God the criminals were not sorry they committed the crimes so the judge had to send them to jail.  Judge and the DA tried to weasel out of the sentencing to jail.  The obviously thing is that the defendants were sorry that they got caught cheating and convicted.  They were not sorry that they did the crimes.  

Poor atlanta school kids.  Sentenced to years of no education and poor jobs and lower living standards.  Life sentences for those kids.  

Worker
Worker

Would he hire any of the felons, or accept any of these students at Ogethorpe?

BurroughstonBroch
BurroughstonBroch

@Worker  Schall was an unsuccessful civil rights plaintiff's attorney in Philadelphia, practicing only 12 years from 1978 until 1990. He then changed careers and has been an academic for the last 25 years. He regularly writes opinion pieces for The Huffington Post.

His opinion is exactly what you would expect and is exactly what Maureen wanted him to write.

As a university president, his chief job is raising money. Given enough money by Oglethorpe patrons, he would hire any of these felons and accept any of these students at Oglethorpe.

sf33
sf33

The expressions of anger and agitation from the sitting judge surprised me too.

partlycloudy
partlycloudy

@sf33 withdrawal from............................... and having to actually sit on the bench and work for a change for his huge salary.  Get to know your judges.  You'd be surprised at their behavior and low IQs.

JHH0718
JHH0718

@partlycloudy @sf33  Partly - you obviously don't know your facts.  Prove to us all how you know the IQ's of judges.  That's just your opinion.  Two friends of mine are judges and both finished Magna Cum Laude. Obviously very high IQ's.  Both are class acts and active in their local churches and community.

Rahnay Stuard
Rahnay Stuard

the judges anger and agitation only reflective a fraction of what the parents of the students felt

Thunderbolt1989
Thunderbolt1989

@sf33 the anger is justified.  22 or so confessed and those at the top of the system refuse to accept responsbility for the lies and cover up they helped Hall create.  i hope they appeal because they will loose.  22 others confessed, that is a huge disadvantage.  The appeal is only to line the pockets of their attorneys.