Mike Morris and Mark Niesse
THE ATLANTA JOURNAL CONSTITUTION
ATLANTA — The first five of the 35 educators indicted in the Atlanta Public Schools cheating scandal turned themselves in to authorities Tuesday morning.
The three testing coordinators, a school improvement specialist and assistant principal reported to the Fulton County Jail after an indictment issued Friday accused them of participating in a scheme to falsify students’ standardized test scores.
The defendants may be released from jail if they post bond amounts, which reach as high as $7.5 million in the case of former Superintendent Beverly Hall, who hadn’t yet reported to jail early Tuesday afternoon. Those who want their bonds reduced may ask a superior court judge for a bond modification hearing, said Fulton County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Tracy Flanagan.
Just before 11:30 Tuesday morning, former Parks Middle School testing coordinator Sandra Ward walked into the jail with her attorney. She is charged with racketeering and making false statements.
The indictment claims Ward falsified students’ answer sheets on standardized tests and then took bonus money based on the inflated test scores.
About an hour earlier, former Parks Middle School Assistant Principal Gregory Reid turned himself in. Reid is charged with racketeering, making false statements and false swearing. Reid’s bond was listed on jail records as $1 million.
Reid is accused of working with Ward and former Principal Christopher Waller to change student test scores, take bonus money, solicit educators to participate in falsifying test results and deceive state investigators, according to the indictment.
Former Benteen Elementary School testing coordinator Theresia Copeland was being held on a $1 million bond for charges including racketeering, theft and making false statements.
Copeland allegedly collected a bonus check based on falsified test results and misled investigators when she said she wasn’t involved in cheating, according to the indictment.
Her attorney, Warren Fortson, said he’s unsure when his client might be able to appear before a judge to ask that her bond be reduced.
“I think this whole thing has turned into something rather ridiculous,” Fortson told reporters outside the jail. “They didn’t treat Al Capone like this.”
“Supposedly, a bond is set to secure that they will be present in a trial,” he said. “I would be very hopeful that a judge would look at it and say, ‘I don’t think that a Cobb County grandmamma needs ... $1 million to secure that she will be here.’”
Former school improvement specialist Tameka Goodson of Kennedy Middle School was the first person to turn herself in at 12:30 a.m., and she was being held on a $200,000 bond, according to jail records. Goodson is charged with racketeering and making false statements.
The indictment accuses Goodson of working with her school’s principal and secretary to change students’ wrong answers to right answers on standardized tests.
Goodson’s attorney, Ray Lail, said after visiting his client late Tuesday morning that she had been booked in, put in an orange jail jumpsuit and placed among the general jail population.
Donald Bullock, a former testing coordinator at Usher-Collier Heights Elementary, arrived at the jail with his attorney just before 6 a.m. on Tuesday. He was held on a $1 million bond.
Bullock is accused of asking two teachers to participate in falsifying standardized test answer sheets and telling the Georgia Bureau of Investigation that he wasn’t aware of teachers erasing test answers. He’s charged with racketeering, false swearing and making false statements.
Bullock had no comment for reporters as he walked briskly from his car to the jail lobby.
At least two former teachers indicted last Friday were ready to turn themselves in Monday, but they couldn’t because the warrants needed to take defendants into custody weren’t ready.
The Fulton County district attorney’s office said the paperwork had been delivered to the Clerk of the Superior Court, and neither gave an explanation for why the process was taking so long.
The defendants had been given a deadline of Tuesday to surrender.
Defense attorneys believed their clients could turn themselves in at any time as long as they met the deadline. But a spokeswoman for Fulton District Attorney Paul Howard said the defendants were to surrender “on Tuesday” and not before.