Tuesday, eight former Atlanta school educators received hefty prison sentences in a landmark test cheating case and are out on bond and with plans to appeal. Two others admitted guilt and received lesser punishments. An 11th educator recently delivered a son and will be up for sentencing in August.
Here’s what’s next for the former educators:
They plan to appeal. The convicted educators will remain out of prison while they file an appeal of their convictions. They will remain free until the appeals are exhausted, which could be more than two to three years. Just producing the required transcript of the trial, which started in August with jury selection, could take a year. It’s expected to be about 20,000 pages.
Some of the former educators may get new attorneys. During sentencing Tuesday, a lawyer for at least one of them said his client would need a new attorney for the appeals phase, possibly a court-appointed attorney. That will have to be worked out before the case heads to the appeals court.
They are first offenders. After much debate in court, all of the 10 guilty educators were sentenced as first offenders, which means their criminal convictions can be erased when they complete sentences and probation.
The two that took plea deals will begin their punishment. Former Usher-Collier Heights Elementary School testing coordinator Donald Bullock will spend weekends for six months in the Fulton County Jail, and and he must perform 1,500 hours of community service, either helping Fulton jail inmates earn their GEDs or working with the DA’s Office to help students hurt by the cheating. Bullock’s lawyer, Hurl Taylor, said Bullock hopes to eventually return to teaching. Former Dunbar Elementary School teacher Pamela Cleveland first balked at the deal, but decided to follow Bullock’s example after seeing the stiff sentences come down. She admitted guilt, apologized and waived her right to appeal. Baxter sentenced her to five years on probation and gave her an at-home curfew of 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. her first year.
They may lose their pensions, if their convictions stand. According to state law, if a public employee commits a “public employment related crime” while acting as a public employee, “upon final conviction” he or she could lose all or part of his or her pension. If the convicted educators lose all appeals — or have waived their right to appeal — the Fulton County District Attorney’s office could begin a process to take away their pensions, according to education retirement experts. If educators appeal their convictions, the pension question might not be resolved for several months, if not years.