Ex-superintendent charged in Atlanta cheating scandal dies

AP News
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Posted: Mar 02, 2015 6:15 PM
Ex-superintendent charged in Atlanta cheating scandal dies

ATLANTA (AP) — Beverly Hall, the former Atlanta Public Schools superintendent charged in what prosecutors called a broad conspiracy to cheat on state exams, has died without being tried in the case that shocked the school system and reverberated nationwide.

Hall died due to complications of the breast cancer that prevented her from participating in an ongoing trial of 12 other defendants, her legal team said in a written statement Monday. She was 68.

She was among more than 30 APS educators indicted in March 2013. Prosecutors claimed she was part of a widespread conspiracy to inflate state test scores in search of bonuses and other benefits.

Hall was set to be tried with 12 other former educators who had not agreed to plea deals starting in 2014, but her attorneys successfully argued that the former superintendent could not help in her own defense due to the cancer treatments.

"She never doubted that in a fair trial, with the jury hearing the state's contentions and her rebuttal, to include her own testimony, she would be acquitted," her legal team wrote. "In the end, she was not strong enough to go to trial although that had been her earnest hope."

Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard issued a statement through his office Monday with no mention of the racketeering, false statements and theft charges Hall still faced at her death.

"The Fulton County District Attorney's Office is sorry to hear that Dr. Beverly Hall has lost her fight against cancer," Howard said. "We extend our heartfelt condolences to her loved ones and offer our thoughts and prayers during this period of grief."

Officials with the school district and Mayor Kasim Reed made similar statements on Monday.

A 2011 state investigation found widespread cheating on annual state exams that were used to determine whether schools met the federal No Child Left Behind law. Test results were tied to extra funding. Investigators reported cheating in 44 schools with nearly 180 educators involved. They said Hall and her top staff "created a culture of fear, intimidation and retaliation."

Hall repeatedly denied knowing of any cheating. She resigned the same year after more than a decade at the helm of Atlanta's public school system, during which she had been praised by the city's business community and recognized by education groups nationwide.

The Jamaican-born Hall began her career in New York City as a teacher, principal and superintendent. After serving in top roles with the New York City and Newark, New Jersey, school systems, she came to Georgia with a reputation for turning schools around. She clashed with some in each district who criticized her management style, but collected awards. Many considered her the Atlanta schools' best chance of improvement when she was hired in 1999.

Michael Casserly, executive director of Council of the Great City Schools that honored Hall in 2006, issued a statement Monday focused on her educational career.

"Today, Atlanta lost one of its giants," Casserly said. "Urban public education has lost one of its great stalwarts. All of us lost one of the best friends anyone could ever have. And America's children lost one of their truest champions."

Closing arguments in the case of the 12 remaining defendants are expected later this month. Jeff Brickman, an adjunct professor of law at Georgia State University, said Hall's death shouldn't affect that case, since new evidence cannot be introduced. But lingering questions are a possibility in any trial, he said.

"You can get a verdict and questions are left unanswered," he said. "This was a one-of-a-kind trial but that can happen in any case."

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Associated Press reporter Christina A. Cassidy contributed to this report.