The state judge overseeing the criminal case that has charged dozens of former educators in the Atlanta public schools with a widespread conspiracy to cheat said in court this week that he has concerns that statements the defendants gave to investigators were coerced.
According to the Associated Press, Fulton County Superior Court Judge Jerry Baxter told prosecutors this week that it appears the accused educators may have been threatened with losing their jobs if they did not cooperate with state investigators looking into allegations of cheating on state assessments. Baxter heard a series of motions from the educators’ defense lawyers challenging the indictments, and, according to local media accounts, suggested he was leaning toward ruling in favor of a motion that argues that staff members were compelled to cooperate with investigators after receiving a memo from high-level district leaders suggesting their jobs would be in jeopardy if they didn’t.
Retired superintendent Beverly Hall—a former national superintendent of the year—is one of 35 educators who were indicted earlier this year on racketeering and other charges that allege Hall and other central office administrators, principals, and teachers cheated on state exams, hid the cheating, and retaliated against whistle-blowers who tried to expose it.
Baxter has not yet ruled, but if he does agree with defense lawyers that the defendants were coerced, it would be a major setback to the prosecutors’ case against the educators.
A version of this news article first appeared in the District Dossier blog.