Oglethorpe University President Lawrence Schall doesn’t dodge the hard stuff. Proving it again today, he dons his legal robes — he is an attorney – and discusses the nature of the charges against former APS school chief Beverly Hall.
He is not the only one questioning the breadth of the criminal charges facing Hall and other educators as a result of a cheating scandal first exposed by an AJC investigation of test score disparities.
The Concerned Black Clergy is holding a 10 a.m. press conference today where local attorneys are scheduled to speak about the overreach of the charges.
The press conference is being held at the Fulton County Jail where the 35 accused APS administrators, educators and others indicted Friday are due to surrender.
A 65-count indictment accuses former APS Superintendent Beverly Hall and 34 others of racketeering along with other crimes — including theft by taking, making false statements or writings, influencing witnesses or false swearings.
Schall wonders whether those charges are justified by the facts of the case.
By Lawrence Schall
This past week, 35 former employees of the Atlanta Public Schools were indicted as a result of the cheating scandal that rocked the district several years ago. Included in those 35 is Dr. Beverly Hall, the APS superintendent who ran the system for more than a decade.
She faces up to 45 years in prison; the length of that term is due to the RICO charges that have been added onto her indictment. RICO’s origins date back to 1970 and its intent was to hammer the leaders of criminal syndicates — the Mafia at the time. In the years since its passage, it has become a handy weapon in the toolbox of prosecutors to pressure people into plea deals in the face of long prison sentences or to obtain such sentences in the rare event that these cases actually go to trial.
I read the indictment this weekend from start to finish. The are so many things I find compelling about this whole case — I should acknowledge I began my professional career as an attorney and matters criminal still intrigue me. One fact of note is that charges are being brought against only 35 people.
You don’t have to go back too far in time to read about the hundreds of people who allegedly cheated their students or the 180 or so that were actually fired from their jobs for such activities.
I’ve always thought that the criminal activity here — and I do believe there was criminal activity committed — was limited. In the end, most of the convictions will come from plea deals; that’s just the way the criminal justice system works in America. Prosecutors over-charge and in the face of the consequences of such charges and the prohibitive costs of mounting a real defense, defendants plead to some lesser offense. I can’t imagine anything otherwise happening here for the majority of the defendants.
On the other hand, I doubt there will be a plea deal with Dr. Hall. The prosecutors are clearly convinced she is guilty of committing heinous crimes and I suspect Dr. Hall disagrees pretty vehemently.
The indictment in her case begins this way. Dr. Hall, we are told, was an incredibly demanding leader. She insisted that the children in her district could succeed — success being defined as passing the infamous CRCT tests — and would accept no excuse for failure from the principals under her command. This inflexibility, we are led to believe, created a climate where principals and teachers were left with almost no choice but to cheat.
I have three things to say here. First, Dr. Hall didn’t invent the CRCT, nor was she the one that made that test the be-all and end-all. That decision was made by our federal government in all its wisdom and Dr. Hall, like other superintendents, was working in a system that made that test and others like it the sole arbiter of success.
Second, I have read a whole lot of books and articles praising take-no-prisoner leaders for their insistence on excellence. In this case, those standards would appear to have risen to the status of criminal activity. One needs to understand how RICO works in order to make sense of this. The defendant can actually be convicted under RICO for the offenses of others if she created a climate where such offenses were likely to occur. I sure hope that if Dr. Hall is convicted, it is for something other than being a demanding, even an overly demanding, boss.
And finally, a whole lot of teachers apparently didn’t find that the only response to Dr. Hall’s leadership style was to cheat. A whole, whole lot.
There are a couple specific counts of alleged wrongdoing made against Dr. Hall. I am not crazy about the theft by taking charge. That one rests on the theory that her bonus structure depended in part on test score performances and she knew those reported scores were false. Her acceptance of bonuses through the years was thus theft under the law. It seems to me that this charge ought to fail unless there is some evidence out there about which we have not yet heard that Dr. Hall knew that the overall performance of her students in the district was being intentionally inflated. It may be the case that she received some reports of a case of alleged cheating here or there, but to turn these into the creation of a criminal syndicate feels like an inappropriate stretch.
I am not making excuses for Dr. Hall. She has lost her job and has been tortured in both the local and national press for years now. All this happened on her watch and, in the end, she has to be held accountable and I think she has been. But I have to say that I am not a big fan of using the criminal courts to go after conduct that is not clearly criminal. There are specific allegations against Dr. Hall that if proven, would appear to be criminal acts — making false statements, withholding evidence, etc. I have no issue with those charges, none at all. But the big conspiracy charge, the RICO counts, seem to me to be beyond the bounds of reasonableness.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog. Please note that all comments to blogs are moderated and must be released to appear.