They’re the first accused teachers in Atlanta’s public schools to get their jobs back after an investigation last July implicated 180 educators in instances of cheating going back to 2001.
Now the dozen teachers reinstated are preparing to return to work after nearly a year of being wrapped up in the scandal. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports some are concerned with how they’ll be received by co-workers and parents after having to fight to win their jobs back.
“I knew I was innocent, and that allowed me to hold my head high. I knew one day I would be able to clear my name,” said Sharona Thomas-Wilson, who will return to Finch Elementary School. “I would encourage the teachers remaining who know they are innocent to stand strong and don’t give up.”
She and teacher Joya Florence found themselves accused to cheating after investigators found a statistically improbable number of wrong-to-right erasures on exams and determined the two teachers gave inconsistent statements in interviews.
After being reinstated last week, Florence and Thomas-Wilson say cheating may have occurred at their school, but they don’t think teachers were involved. They blame investigators for ruining the reputations of innocent people.
“I was angry initially,” Florence said. “This was a trial and it was tough, but it grew me a lot. I’m not harboring any anger toward anyone.”
Attorney Bob Wilson, one of the lead investigators in the cheating case, stood by its 400-page report. He said if the investigation had any shortcomings, it was in failing to identify all of the teachers and principals who participated in
Wilson said investigators understood that in some cases their findings wouldn’t meet the standards of evidence required by school systems to fire teachers.
“The investigation uncovered massive cheating,” Wilson said. “Does that mean all the standards that need to be met for the purposes of a tribunal hearing can be met? Not necessarily. That doesn’t change our findings.”
Atlanta school officials say 30 educators remain on paid leave awaiting resolution of their cases. Tribunals have upheld recommendations to fire 10. Educators named in the investigative report could eventually face criminal charges, and many have already lost their teaching certification.
Patrick Moore, who represents eight of the reinstated teachers, praised the school district for fairly reviewing each case and “bravely” deciding to allow the teachers to return to work. However, he said investigators based many of their accusations on faulty eyewitnesses whose testimony strayed from basic facts – such as what grade the educators taught.
“It’s atrocious what my clients had to go through for over a year because of very sloppy investigation,” Moore said. “Certain improprieties may have occurred in APS. But whoever was responsible for investigating my clients dropped the ball.”