A jury has found 11 ex-educators in Atlanta guilty of participating in a massive cheating scandal, and one of those educators was a fired 4th-grade teacher previously found innocent by a disciplinary tribunal.
That teacher, Angela Williamson, is in shock right now, her lawyer, Gerald Griggs, told Business Insider on Wednesday afternoon.
Children testified in court that Williamson did not cheat, as did a testing proctor who worked with her, according to Griggs.
“I was definitely expecting an acquittal. It was shock when the conviction came back. I don’t really know, at this point, what the jury based their decision on,” he said.
“I believe we proved that she didn’t do these things. I am very curious to find out what the jury based its decision on with regard to her because we actually presented a case,” he said.
Williamson was one of 35 Atlanta Public Schools (APS) employees indicted in 2013 in a massive cheating case that accused them of engaging in a criminal conspiracy to boost standardised test scores to get higher bonuses. The cheating ring allegedly went all the way up to now-deceased ex-APS superintendent Beverly Hall, and state investigators used wiretaps to gather crucial evidence in the case.
Griggs has previously suggested to Business Insider that the allegations against Williamson are flimsier than those against many of the other teachers, who allegedly participated in “cheating parties” in order to change kids’ answers on a standardised test known as the Criterion-Referenced Competency Test (CRCT).
Unlike other school employees, Williamson was never caught on a wiretap, according to her lawyer. Some allegations against her sound silly, while one allegation makes her sound like a mobster.
“They are saying she prompted students to change answers as opposed to other people [educators] engaging in cheating parties,” Griggs previously said in a recent phone interview. “Our response is she never prompted anyone to do anything.”
Georgia state investigators have alleged that during 2009 testing she sent signals in the form of coughs or frowns when she wanted kids to change their answers, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution has reported.
In a graver allegation, Georgia state investigators say Williamson told her students, “If you tell anyone about this, it would be the last person you tell.”
This case was unusual because Williamson and the other teachers were convicted of violating Georgia’s Racketeer Influenced And Corrupt Organisations (RICO) Act, a law originally enacted to go after mobsters. Griggs, her lawyer, says he has never heard of the law being used to go after teachers. He believes the case could set a dangerous precedent.
“If this is setting a precedent for the US, we’re in trouble,” Griggs said, noting the prospect that the law could be used in the future to go after anybody accused of committing a crime with a group of people.
Dobbs Elementary School, a school with many poor kids where Williamson taught, got caught up in the cheating scandal when a state audit found an unusually high number of wrong-to-right erasures on the CRCT. Williamson was accused of prompting kids to change those answers, a feat her lawyer says is impossible.
There were 100 questions on the test, and different versions of that test floated around the room, her lawyer Griggs told us. In order to help the kids cheat, Griggs said she would have had to hover over students, read several paragraphs that are used to assess kids’ reading comprehension, and feed them the answers — all with a test proctor standing right outside. Griggs also said that the student who made claims about “cough prompts” admitted that Williamson never said before the test that she planned to cough to signal that kids should change the answers.
According to state investigators, Williamson has said she “returned her CRCT tests in a particular order, and sometimes the next day the tests would be returned out of order.” The implications of this observation aren’t entirely clear but suggest somebody else at the school may have changed the answers on the tests and mixed up their order.
In any event, a tribunal of educators of educators found Williamson innocent of the cheating allegations in 2013 and voted to reinstate her. Her lawyer plans to appeal the jury verdict.
NOW WATCH: Briefing videos
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.