An Atlanta judge changed his mind today and reduced the prison sentences of three educators whom he had sentenced to seven years in prison earlier this month for their part in the Atlanta public school test cheating scandal.
Judge Jerry W. Baxter reduced the sentences of the three administrators from seven years to three years, and reduced their probation from 13 years to seven years. He also reduced their fines from $25,000 to $10,000, but he maintained the requirement for 2,000 hours of community service.
Many people had criticize the length of the original sentences handed down by Baxter, claiming that they were longer than the terms many people have received for crimes like murder—and came during a time when police officers were doing no time for killing unarmed Black men. Baxter apparently was sensitive to the complaints. Giving the impression that he was ready for retirement, Baxter said he wanted to “modify the sentence so I can live with it,” according to the Washington Post.
Tamara Cotman, Michael Pitts and Sharon Davis-Williams were the three school administrators who had their sentences reduced. They were part of a group of 11 educators who were convicted April 1 of taking part in the conspiracy to falsify student scores on standardized tests.
It was the largest test cheating scandal in American history, a shocking illustration of how nation’s schools have been abducted by the pressures for students to perform on standardized tests—with incredibly high stakes for the students, teachers and principals if they fail.
Baxter urged the three defendants to begin the community service portion of their sentences now instead of waiting for their appeals to play out, which could take years. He said if they do the community service they could even earn a suspended prison sentence.
“I’m not Oliver Wendell Holmes, but I do have a feel for trials and cases, and it’s my humble belief that this case is going to be affirmed,” he said. “If I am reversed and you are correct, you will still have served the community, so it’s not like you have wasted time.”
As he did two weeks ago when he handed down the original sentences, Baxter brought the case back to the many children who were harmed.
“There’s a lot more to this tragedy than the cheating,” Baxter said. “I mean the poverty, and the utter hopelessness in a lot of these neighborhoods. . . .Teaching in these areas — and there are fine teachers and dedicated teachers — that alone is not going to solve the problem.”
Baxter said his wish is that scandal forces the city of Atlanta to “put a microscope” on the problems facing poor communities and “make things better for these children that didn’t ask to be born in these conditions.”