Valdosta Daily Times

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February 4, 2013

Resolution of cheating caught between 2 agencies

ATLANTA — Most of the educators named in an Atlanta school cheating scandal are gone. But for many, there is no closure because they are caught between two agencies.

An investigation 18 months ago found that teachers changed answers on standardized tests or coached students at 44 of the 55 schools examiners. Dozens of teachers and administrators confessed to cheating, and the Atlanta Public Schools and district moved to purge the 178 educators named in the state investigation report.

Most resigned, retired, did not have their contracts renewed or appealed their dismissal to a tribunal and lost. Four are still appealing, and 17 got reinstated after going before a tribunal or because of a lack of evidence.

In addition, the state Professional Standards Commission is recommending either suspending or revoking the teaching licenses of all 178 educators named in the state report, including the 17 who were determined not to have cheated.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (http://bit.ly/XQtI5O ) reports there is a holdup on doing that.

The Fulton County district attorney is still holding the investigative files of 40 of the educators — including former superintendent Beverly Hall, and top administrators Kathy Augustine, Millicent Few, Sharon Davis Williams, Michael Pitts and Tamara Cotman — as he considers criminal charges, according to Senior Assistant Attorney General Rebecca Mick, who represents the commission in appeals.

Until the district attorney releases those 40 files, Mick said, the commission can’t complete its investigation and hold hearings for the 110 APS educators who have challenged sanctions. Fulton District Attorney Paul Howard declined to comment on his investigation.

Commission investigator John Grant said his agency has a responsibility to put the brakes on all the appeals, which will be held before an administrative law judge, until all the evidence is available to defense and prosecution.

Atlanta Public Schools Board Chairman Reuben McDaniel said the district moved as fast and fairly as it could to get rid of bad educators and resolve the cases of those who appealed termination.

But the state threw such a wide net in its investigation — in which some educators were implicated solely because a statistical analysis of wrong answers changed to right answers indicated probable cheating - mistakes were made, said McDaniel.

“Unfortunately, some innocent people were caught up in that,” said McDaniel. “But we decided that, if we were going to err, it would be on the side of protecting students from bad teachers.”

Former Jones Elementary school third grade teacher Idalina Couto, who awaits an appeal before the commission, counts herself as a victim of the process. She appealed her termination before a tribunal last May and failed to get reinstated.

Couto, 47, was accused of prompting students to change wrong answers to right answers by telling them to check their work. During her hearing, her attorney argued that the Georgia Bureau of Investigation agent misrepresented her statements in his summary of her interview, but he had not recorded it and discarded his notes.

Cuoto said she lost her $62,000-a-year job and her home because of the financial strain of the ordeal.  She now lives in Douglas County in a rental property with her two school-aged children and elderly parents. With a cheating scandal on her resume, and the commission recommending her license be suspended, her career as a teacher is over, said Couto.

She’s applied for lower-paying jobs in education and been turned down, including a clerical job at a Fulton County school.

“The principal told me I was more than qualified, but he didn’t feel comfortable hiring me because of the fear of backlash from parents,” Couto said.

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