(USA Today)- Educators accused in a massive cheating scandal at the city's public schools began turning themselves in Tuesday, some facing bonds of $1 million or more.
The 35 defendants were indicted Friday on 65 counts, including racketeering, making false statements and improperly influencing witnesses.
The investigation was sparked by reports of widespread erasures on student 2009 Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests. The center of the storm is former superintendent Beverly Hall, who was named national superintendent of the year in 2009 by the American Association of School Administrators -- in large part because of students' improvement on standardized tests.
Hall, superintendent from 1999 to 2011, and many of the other defendants have maintained their innocence. The grand jury hearing the case suggested bond of $7.5 million for Hall. If convicted, she faces up to 45 years in prison.
All the defendants must surrender at Fulton County Jail on Tuesday, but by early afternoon less than a dozen had done so.
Hurl Taylor, who represents test coordinator Donald Bullock, said his client's $1 million bond amounts to cruel and unusual punishment. Warren Fortson, who represents test coordinator Theresia Copeland, described her as a 56-year-old grandmother and said her $1 million bond was unnecessary.
Tameka Goodson, the school improvement specialist at Kennedy Middle School, faced bond of $200,000. Her attorney, Raymond Lail, told WAGA-TV that Goodson is "absolutely not guilty of these charges."
Parks Middle School was the school with the highest number of wrong-to-right erasures on the 2009 CRCT, according to the report commissioned by Gov. Nathan Deal. Gregory Reid, an assistant principal at Parks, turned himself and faces a $1 million bond.
Sandra Ward, the testing coordinator at Parks, saw her bond of $1 million reduced to $50,000 after her attorney got a reduction from the District Attorney.
The educators are being fingerprinted, having mug shots taken and being given an opportunity to post bail.
"What we've charged is a conspiracy, and the conspirators carried out different parts of this conspiracy," Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard said after the indictment was released. He said the panel had investigated for 21 months.
"We intend to let the legal process take its course," current Superintendent Erroll Davis said. "Our focus has been and will continue to be to provide a quality education for our children in an ethical environment and fully support the 95% of teachers who were not implicated in this scandal."
A state investigation in 2011 implicated nearly 180 educators.
After the reports of widespread erasures on the 2009 tests, then-governor Sonny Perdue appointed a special investigative panel. The state investigators found that cheating occurred at 44 Atlanta schools and involved 178 educators, including 38 principals.
About 150 of those implicated have resigned, retired or lost appeals to keep their jobs; 21 have been reinstated, and three are still awaiting appeals before a disciplinary tribunal.
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