ATLANTA — The judge in the the largest public school cheating scandal in American history had a change of heart, and greatly reduced the sentences for the three former Atlanta Public Schools administrators who received the harshest sentences.
The school teachers were convicted of conspiring to cheat on standardized tests were told of their resentencing on Thursday to terms that would make them serve only three years in prison instead of the original judgement of seven years.
Judge Jerry Baxter of Fulton County Superior Court, who originally told Tamara Cotman, Sharon Davis-Williams and Michael Pitts that they would serve seven years of a 20-year sentence, announced the new sentences of 10 years in prison, enabling them to serve three years behind bars with the balance to be served on probation.
Pitts, however, will have to serve another three-year term, to run concurrently, the result of his conviction of influencing a witness.
“When a judge goes home and keeps thinking, ‘There’s something wrong,’ something is usually wrong. I want to modify it so I can live with it,” Baxter told the media in an impromptu press conference, according to the Washington Post.
Baxter changed the three administrators’ fines to $10,000 from his original $25,000 as part of the reduced sentencing. However, Baxter refused to change their exorbitant 2,000 hours of community service they all have to perform, which is equivalent of a year of 40-hour workweeks.
“I want to modify it to be something fair and something I can live with,” Baxter announced from the bench, said USA Today. The judge handed down the toughest sentences to Cotman, Davis-Williams and Pitt because he was convinced they were the ringleaders along with former Superintendent in the cheating scandal.
Hall was among those charged but she was deemed far too sick to stand trial. She later died from breast cancer.
“He recognized there’s a legal mistake here,” Davis said.
The defendants had been accused of falsifying test results to collect bonuses or keep their jobs in Atlanta Public Schools. In all, 35 educators were indicted in 2013 on charges including racketeering, making false statements and theft. Many pleaded guilty and some testified at the trial. The three were among the 11 convicted.
There is one more teacher who is subjected to sentencing. Shani Robinson of Dunbar Elementary School was excused from sentencing temporarily to give birth. She will be sentenced in August.