Opinion: “Fulton DA Paul Howard’s my friend, but he was wrong in APS case.”

Rev. Markel Hutchins, a local civil rights leader, calls Fulton District Attorney Paul Howard a ‘’long-time friend,” but says he was wrong in the prosecution of educators in the APS scandal.

By Rev. Markel Hutchins

Yes, cheating happened and it should be punished but, punitive and criminal are not inherently synonymous.

The culture of cheating in Atlanta Public Schools and elsewhere in education must be addressed but a criminal court is not nearly the appropriate venue.

Let me be clear, I do not support the unfettered exoneration of those involved in the APS scandal. Educators who cheat children, and by extension society, should be fired. They should lose their certifications. They should never again be able to teach.

However, to criminalize educational accountability is wrong for Atlanta and for America. The APS investigation should have been conducted by the professional body that licenses teachers not a politically-motivated district attorney.

Worst of all, to persecute and sentence educators for racketeering or “RICO” is disgustingly profane. They made mistakes and extremely bad decisions still, how does our criminal justice system credibly hold twelve people responsible for a completely broken system of public education.

Violent criminals in Atlanta have won a perpetual victory since this case ensued because many of their crimes have gone untried and unpunished as the Fulton County District Attorney chose to spend millions of dollars on a case that brought neither solution nor resolution instead of spending those taxpayer dollars putting hardened, violent criminals behind bars.

This case is not about race but about justice.

Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard speaks during a press conference in the courtroom following the sentencing. Sentencing continues for 10 of the 11 defendants convicted of racketeering and other charges in the Atlanta Public Schools test-cheating trial before Judge Jerry Baxter in Fulton County Superior Court, Tuesday, April 14,  (Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Kent D. Johnson, Pool)

Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard speaks during a press conference in the courtroom following Tuesday’s sentencing. (Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Kent D. Johnson, Pool)

The educators sentenced yesterday were all willing to accept responsibility for their actions and omissions. They were willing to offer public apologies. They were willing to acknowledge what they’d actually done but they were courageously unwilling to stand in court and falsely proclaim to the judge that they were racketeers merely to feed the hefty ego and political appetite of the prosecutor.

Why was it necessary for them to pronounce their own guilt after they’d been found guilty by a jury in order for them to receive lighter sentences? Such a public proclamation was demanded by the district attorney (not the judge) for his agenda — not the public good.

This complex quagmire is more about public policy and public culture than it is about personal indiscretions. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. suggested, “crimes will be committed when there is darkness but the responsible parties aren’t just those who committed the crimes but also those who created the darkness.”

Judge Jerry Baxter pronounced sentence upon the entire Atlanta Public Schools system and is requiring 11 sacrificial lambs to pay a harsh price for the “crimes” of many. That ain’t justice!

The real scoundrel here is Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard, a long-time friend of mine. Children, educators, families, businesses, Judge Baxter and public education in the United States of America are all victims of Mr. Howard’s dubious actions.

Indeed, this was not a victimless situation.

 

Reader Comments 0

70 comments
JBBrown1968
JBBrown1968

Wow. Most of you people hate public education. You guys are only jumping on this APS mess band wagon to say.....I told you so. Yes they are guilty, put them in jail or execute them. Makes no difference to me. Changing that silly asssssssss test makes no difference to the justice system or you people. A new group of crooks wants to control the money! These people are just collateral damage. Seven years is extreme.

There has been more abuse of educational tax dollars on High School athletic programs then what these people took. We all know that these athletes are NOT being used by their schools or communities, and they are all being well educated. Where is your outrage? It been proven most of the successful coaches around here are cheating to win. No unethical problem if you are a winner.....correct? Don't worry about not living in district young man.....

For the private school crowd..........you are right, I am wrong. Recruiting poor minority kids to play football never happens

AlwaysSkepticalOne
AlwaysSkepticalOne

Maureen, if you have have any influence, it would be great if the Dana Evans interview was not behind the pay wall. It would be the FIRST time that all readers would have an opportunity to hear directly from the accused after sentencing. In the interest of having the public hear all sides regarding this very public issue, I believe it's a matter of journalistic integrity as our city's paper of record to let everyone see the story.

bu2
bu2

@AlwaysSkepticalOne 


She doesn't have any problem with Beverly Hall.  That's all I needed to read from her.

Belinda51
Belinda51

"The APS investigation should have been conducted by the professional body that licenses teachers not a politically-motivated district attorney."

Riiiiight.......because they would have done a bang up job. Even our "Blue Ribbon Commission" couldn't force the truth out of these people. It required subpoena power.

Astropig
Astropig

@Belinda51


The teachers would have whitewashed it and suspended their teaching license for 30 days. The judge in this case is not beholden to the teachers OR the DA. He was impartial and bent over backward to get the defendants to accept plea deals. Then he bent over backwards to ensure that a very complicated trial was fair. Then, he bent over backwards to hand out lenient sentences if the defendants would only accept what they had been convicted of. I don't know what he could have done short of dismissing all charges and buying these people lunch.



EdJohnson
EdJohnson

@Belinda51


“Even our ‘Blue Ribbon Commission’ couldn't force the truth out of these people.”

Now that is one heck of a misinformed joke.  “Our ‘Blue Ribbon Commission’” was APS’ leading cover-up agent in the mess.  The idea was for our vaunted “Atlanta business and civic community” – viz., APS school board’s empaneled Blue Ribbon Commission – to investigate and find no evidence of cheating.  And so the BRC investigated and found no evidence of cheating.  Of course, the APS school board had membership on the BRC.  When I attempted to hand BRC chair John Price of General Electric a report detailing mostly in graphics just how perversely extreme the cheating was compared to all other districts, he refused to take it.

And then there was the time Beverly Hall and the APS board brought in Panasonic Foundation to help hatch a plausible PR scheme to protect Hall and blame school people.  The PR scheme they came up with arbitrarily limited the extent of the cheating to 12 schools, rationalizing that the dirty dozen schools represented “unanticipated consequences,” I believe it was said but I could be wrong on the exact wording.

Good thing Purdue did not buy the horribly bankrupt morals and ethics of Hall and the “Atlanta business and civic community.”

popacorn
popacorn

@Astropig @Belinda51

The first clue as to their stupidity: Cheating so much that kids were turning from Forrest Gump to Albert Einstein overnight. No one will notice that!

Belinda51
Belinda51

I agree. I should have put Blue Ribbon Commission in quotes.

Beverly Hall
Beverly Hall

So on we go

His welfare is of my concern
No burden is he to bear
We'll get there

For I know
He would not encumber me
He ain't heavy, he's my brother

Paul Howard, he aint much of a Prosecutor, but he's my brother....

PITTFAN
PITTFAN

A)  When are people actually going to realize this case was actually based on government theft and not cheating.  These people too money to falsify government documents and many were coerced into doing so because if they didn't, they would have lost their job.  Cheating was just a small part of this case, in my opinion.


B)  "The educators sentenced yesterday were all willing to accept responsibility for their actions and omissions. They were willing to offer public apologies. They were willing to acknowledge what they’d actually done but they were courageously unwilling to stand in court and falsely proclaim to the judge that they were racketeers merely to feed the hefty ego and political appetite of the prosecutor."

Wait, did we watch the same sentencing???  Only two of them was willing to accept responsibility for their actions.  The others are fools for not taking the plea deals offered.  All the judge wanted was an apology to the community and yet they felt they couldn't do that.


C)  I do not see how those 8 ex-educators can still to this day deny what they did.  If you took an eraser and went into someone's home for an "erasing party", you committed the crime.  If you forced someone to change answers on a test sheet, you are guilty.  I simply do not understand why they are being so stubborn about this and not see how they did anything wrong. 

popacorn
popacorn

Does seem a bit unfair. Everyone piling on the verdict, continuing to enable crappy/dishonest educators, while the poor shafted kids are unable to defend themselves because they can't read or write. True colors indeed. Shame.

PJ25
PJ25

So when is Maureen going stop showing her bias and write columns on folks who think these sentences were fair and just? There's 10's of 1,000s in metro Atlanta alone to choose from including preachers, teachers and attorneys. 



OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@Andy123 

 I would guess that Maureen has chosen columns that will provoke blog comments...and these essays defending the educators have attracted a great many opposing comments that defend the sentences, notice.

Lee_CPA2
Lee_CPA2

I recall a news story about the Atlanta police going into a black housing project to arrest a black criminal for the rape of a 12 year old black girl.  The mostly black officers almost had a riot on their hands when the black residents of the housing project began to protest the arrest of this black rapist.

Point is, blacks will always defend the tribe.  Doesn't matter how heinous the crime.

This is no different.  Black churches have been having prayer vigils for these black educators despite the fact that these black educators harmed their black students.  Now, we have a black "Reverend" publicly denouncing a black district attorney for prosecuting these black educators who harmed their black students.

That is why a charlatan such as MLK or Sharpton can easily manipulate the black hordes.

Raja44
Raja44

@Lee_CPA2 I would tend to agree with much of what you say about certain segments of the black population protecting their own no matter what the facts are, but did you really lump Martin Luther King, Jr. together with Al Sharpton in a disparaging shot at the end?  Talk about destroying your credibility -- you're operating in the same manner but just at the polar opposite end of Rev. Markel Hutchins.

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@Lee_CPA2 

From what I can find via Google, "Rev." is a self-bestowed title.  Markel Hutchins has formed the "Markel Ministries, Associated," and is "affiliated with numerous Baptist denominations" (Wiki.). Pretty vague, and also, it being Wiki., a self-composed entry. He has one of those free "blog"-journals with Wordpress called "Skeptical Brotha" that's political commentary. But most of the links I found relate to his effort (noted below) to scam the estate of Dorothy Johnson for his unsolicited public commentary about the police part in the case.

popacorn
popacorn

@Lee_CPA2 

Deny, deny, deny until you believe it yourself. Down to your bones. Uncanny. 

GB101
GB101

punitive and criminal are not inherently synonymous.


What on earth does this mean?  No, "punitive" and "criminal" are not synonymous, inherently or otherwise.  To my knowledge no one ever said they were, or took any actions that imply such a belief.  



WholeTruth
WholeTruth

Maureen, keep up the good work. My advise to you is keep investigating why Paul Howard used racketeering charges in this case.  What the readers don't understand is, the DA's office was offering the 11 plea offers after they were convicted, not for their well being, but for his own.  His case of racketeering died when Ms. Hall died. The spotlight is this case in Appellate Court will be on him.  His career is over. The only chance he had was getting these 11 people to give up their right to appeal. Remember the Justice System is an oxymoron.

newsphile
newsphile

Am I the only reader who believes we need to see some writers who favor the outcome?  We need some balance.

Astropig
Astropig

@newsphile


I agree. Great idea. This is too important for just one side to be heard from.

popacorn
popacorn

@newsphile

Never, ever doubt the loyalty of education's girl's club. Our moderator is an honorary member. But loyal to the point of irresponsible journalism?

Gandolph
Gandolph

The Rev Markel Hutchins is full of it.  He seems to be about NEVER taking responsibility for your actions.  The convicted educators were defiant all the way to the end (sentencing) and remain so even today.  He, above all people, should know that one day we all will be held accountable. He also knows that because he shepherds a flock, he will be held accountable to a higher degree than his sheep. I am not on that committee, but I am not sure that I would want to be in his shoes on that day.

jerryeads
jerryeads

Paul Howard isn't the problem. The real criminals are the governors, legislatures, agency heads and superintendents who insist on holding kids and teachers to arbitrary and capricious "standards" being grossly misrepresented by cheaply and badly built tests instead of focusing on real improvement of the teaching profession and leadership of schools.

pramebat
pramebat

Interesting opinion piece Ms. Downey. Are you going to provide an opposing opinion to present a balanced critique of the current state of affairs?

EliasDenny
EliasDenny

I don't live in Atlanta metro area but this man is right and I only have an interest because several family members ar teachers and if this isn't a miscarriage of justice I've never seen one in my 75 years. 

DrTruth
DrTruth

@EliasDenny  If they were found guilty but let go with no punishment because they are teachers and administrators, you would have posted the same exact statement...

EdGraham
EdGraham

"This case is not about race but about justice."


That's total BS.  EVERYTHING is about race with Markel Hutchins.

Ray78
Ray78

You are not going to find a ground swell of support for his position in the black community. Those administrators ruined many teachers careers, and most importantly, orchestrated a scheme to rob APS students of the help they needed. Most of them were black.


We have a metro population of close to 5 million people but he and his group can only muster maybe 25 people for his protests? That should tell him something.


Big props though to Bernice King for working with the DA's office to help fashion a educational teaching program for those going to jail.


One can't help but wonder if he has figured out a way to gain financially from this like when he sued to get a large part of the families settlement in the unfortunate incident when the elderly lady was killed in the police raid. Is he expecting compensation from these defendants to speak on their behalf?

PITTFAN
PITTFAN

@Astropig @Ray78 

What a scumbag he is.  What does he honestly expect to get monetarily from these APS people?  They are flat broke.  And now their attorneys are broke because they can't pay them.

Broxton
Broxton

"The real scoundrel" was Mr. Howard according to the reverend. This statement demonstrates the real problem not only in this case but in so many unfortunate situations involving African-Americans. It is always someone else's fault. Please reverend, understand your position and defending many situations by finding fault with others greatly affects your credibility and the credibility of the legitimate grievances of African-Americans. The "educators" who received jail time received their sentences because they committed a terrible crime and because of their arrogance and refusal to accept responsibility for criminal acts they were clearly found to have committed and which co-defendants admitted they committed. There was language that could have been crafted admitting their acts witout using "racketeering." Their redemption should have begun with a clear demonstration of remorse and humility. If the "racketeering" language was too offensive the judge should have been informed. The defendants receiving jail time were given numerous chances to avoid the harsh sentences. They chose not to avail themselves of these opportunities but instead chose, in their arrogance to roll the dice with the jury. When they lost they again arrogantly refused to plead. This is very arrogance that started this mess as they gathered together to game the system. Paul Howard and Judge Baxter did their jobs. The fault is with these defendants. They have given the APS a black eye that will be long lasting despite the reverend's efforts to blame others.

PITTFAN
PITTFAN

@Broxton 

The two that took the plea read their own statements, right?  They weren't "crafted" by the DA's office some of the attorneys seemed to imply.

living-in-outdated-ed
living-in-outdated-ed

Sadly, Reverend Hutchins is making up his own fact base here.   Last time I checked, the defendants were offered plea deals which included accepting responsibility - they chose not to do that. Where is he getting his information from??


This wasn't just cheating.  This was an organized cheating campaign.   We can debate whether or not the sentences were overly harsh, but I think it's clear that in some ways, Reverend Hutchins is showing the same indignation as the defendants and their attorneys demonstrated yesterday morning.


It just seems to me that this blog is trying to amplify the outcry about the sentences and not maintaining a balanced approach to the debate.  How about finding an ethics expert to opine on this?   Or some reputable folks who would defend the decision of the judge?  Lets keep it balanced.

Astropig
Astropig

"The real scoundrel here is Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard, a long-time friend of mine. Children, educators, families, businesses, Judge Baxter and public education in the United States of America are all victims of Mr. Howard’s dubious actions."


I think we can safely say that we now know who put pressure on DA Howard to cut those last minute deals that the judge laughed (and cursed) out of chambers.

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

Ever since I first read about the unfolding cheating case in 2010, I have thought that there was something especially heinous and disturbing about it. It violated one of the deeper beliefs in the black community, that I have talked about with black educators, read about in many many books, and seen for myself although I am white.


Black teachers and preachers have always had a special mission to hold onto and nurture the self-identity and self-worth of black children, in a society in which they are devalued and ignored. That mission goes back to the Jim Crow days, to "continue the race." And that is why their "teachers and preachers" have long been revered and held in special esteem...and I think why there has been such a swelling of public support for these 11 found guilty. For they are teachers, aren't they?


But to me it makes their crime much worse. They have broken faith with the black educators of the past who would never, ever have cheated their black children out of literacy and knowledge, not for any reason.

THE right fight
THE right fight

I'm sorry, but is this a civil rights issue?  Was someone's civil rights violated?  Maybe I missed it.  Mr. Hutchins (a civil rights leader) knows not what he speaks of.  And then to bring MLK into this.  INSANE!!!  He stated that this was not about RACE...I guess that's like when people say it's not about MONEY, but it's always about MONEY.  Speaking of RACE and MONEY, seems like Mr. Hutchins only shows up when one or both can be manipulated or gained. i.e the Kathryn Johnston Shooting, Danny Ferry and the Hawks, APS educators, ...

Astropig
Astropig

@THE right fight


"Was someone's civil rights violated?" 


I think that the students civil rights were violated. I guess Rev. Hutchins doesn't care about them.

Astropig
Astropig

"The educators sentenced yesterday were all willing to accept responsibility for their actions and omissions. They were willing to offer public apologies. They were willing to acknowledge what they’d actually done but they were courageously unwilling to stand in court and falsely proclaim to the judge that they were racketeers merely to feed the hefty ego and political appetite of the prosecutor"


This is simply not true. 


Judge Baxter got it right. He showed compassion,mercy and leniency for defendants that took responsibility.He dispensed justice in his courtroom.Stern justice,to be sure,for some defendants,but justice is not just about whats best for the convicted,it also has to take into account their victims. Baxter correctly stated that some of the victims had appeared before his bench and may have stayed out of trouble with a better education.


Rev. Hutchins, real courage would have been standing up to Beverly Hall,Tamara Cotman et al  when they cheated and tried to cover it up. There's a difference between courage and stubbornness.

PappyHappy
PappyHappy

Money was accepted from the top down for services not rendered.  The Superintendent received approximately $500,000 in bonus money under FRAUDULENT CONDITIONS.  Other tax monies were provided administrators and teachers for score enhancements that were not achieved.  Teachers -- encouraged by administrators -- cheated.  Evidence in this trial has shown that they KNEW WHAT THEY WERE DOING, and continued CHEATING CHILDREN AND PARENTS.

What defies logic in my mind is that some clergy want to go easy on them.  For Pete's sake, this is THEFT BY TAKING.  That is a CRIMINAL ACT.  

I just hate to see the clergy become PART OF THE PROBLEM.  That is a SAD STATE OF AFFAIRS.  Is that what an ENTITLEMENT CULTURE led us to? 

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

Wrong, Rev!  Absolutely, totally, WRONG.  The blame is on educators who granted authority to others over the educators' ethics.

Astropig
Astropig

@Wascatlady


He also attributed a Victor Hugo quotation to MLK. The truth ain't in him.

AvgGeorgian
AvgGeorgian

I am seeking to understand the extreme outrage. The teachers did the wrong thing, but are people so angry because they think the cheated children have the right to be held back? It's not as if the next year's teacher did not work to help the child. Many children are passed but are not performing at grade level and they could have been held back the next year.


Again, I am not excusing the teachers, and harm was done, but they also did not steal scholarships at Harvard from 100% of the children whose scores were changed. Has anyone looked at the outcomes of those children and their peers and seen great differences? One more time - it was wrong, but what is the documented damage? Cheating is wrong in and of itself but what exactly is the damage? Is it like shoplifting, burglary, armed robbery, or some other level of crime?How do we determine that?

Astropig
Astropig

@AvgGeorgian


" Has anyone looked at the outcomes of those children and their peers and seen great differences? One more time - it was wrong, but what is the documented damage? "


Judge Baxter cited several of these students as having been sentenced by his court for crimes. He posited that if they had gotten a good education and not been passed along with bogus test scores,they may have turned out differently and made better choices.


There is some documented damage.

AvgGeorgian
AvgGeorgian

@Astropig @AvgGeorgian I thought he was speaking off the cuff as opposed to knowing actual students that had been cheated. You may be right but I don't  know that this shows cause and effect. If they were being prosecuted for fraud in taking the bonuses, it is more psychologically measurable to us folks since we understand fraud prosecutions. Since this seems to be the first felony prosecution for this type of cheating(is it?), we don't really have a frame of reference.

MaureenDowney
MaureenDowney moderator

@AvgGeorgian @Astropig No one has followed the children whose scores were changed. 

And it is likely that those children would have been promoted anyway as most kids who failed the CRCT are across the state. Would they have been entitled to summer school or tutoring? Yes, some of  them would have.

Would that have changed their academic paths? Depends on how well done the programs are.

The judge was speaking generally that kids with no education are the ones who end up in his courtroom. At trial, kids testified that they struggled in school, but that was expected. These were the kids who could not pass the CRCT, and it's not a hard test to pass.They are going to struggle. The unknown: Would they have struggled less with more targeted intervention?


I looked earlier today at the standing of the schools with documented cheating, and they are still doing poorly in terms of academic achievement. And they were doing poorly before the cheating. That is what made the challenge of dramatically raising scores there so tough.



Astropig
Astropig

@MaureenDowney @AvgGeorgian @Astropig


Sorry, I remember it differently. The judge said that some of the kids cheated had passed through his courtroom. No matter what, they will at one point or another. If all of the enablers here had to rub elbows as closely as I have with uneducated youth that committed crimes that would ruin their lives, they would take this a whole lot more seriously.People are quick to blame bad parents,but these people had an influence on these kids too, and they failed them as surely as any single mom/dad ever did.


One thing that I do know for certain-None of these defendants will ever do this again,and the next people that are tempted will think twice.I think that that fact alone has made this trial a good thing for the education community. I have been encouraged to read several comments from teachers that expressed their relief that these people have been run out of their profession.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@MaureenDowney @AvgGeorgian @Astropig Good points.  What I have seen is that, even with after school study, special, smaller classes with the most experienced teachers, and the other kinds of help that a dedicated staff can bring, it is not often the trajectory can be changed for students already far behind (far enough to merit failing the CRCT).   (I won't even mention the  gross failure of RTI) "Outside help" to parents and families from other social service entities can help, but so much of the turnaround cannot be put in place by the school, and parents have to be willing to follow through with the changes expected by those social service agencies.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@MaureenDowney @AvgGeorgian @Astropig I have taught over 1000 poor kids, but the majority of them had, at its most basic level, parents who wanted them to achieve.  Even without money, without parental educational attainment, that desire saves these kids, gives them the sense of agency or efficacy that results in graduating and sometimes moving into postsecondary education.  If the child does not have those kinds of parents, their chances are diminished exponentially.

Do you think a follow up of the former students will be done?  Do you think there will be civil suits filed against the pleading and convicted educators?

Astropig
Astropig

@MaureenDowney @AvgGeorgian


I double checked and Judge Baxter said "There are victims that are in the jail...That I have sentenced,kids...I don't like sentencing...I don't like sending people to jail"