Judge sentences final APS educator convicted in cheating scandal

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ATLANTA — A former Atlanta Public Schools teacher and a former principal will each have to spend time behind bars as a judge wrapped up the cheating scandal trial, though he acknowledged the appeals may drag on for another three years.

Former Dunbar Elementary School teacher Shani Robinson was convicted along with 10 other former APS educators back in April, but because she was nine months pregnant at the time, the judge delayed her sentencing until Tuesday.

Judge Jerry Baxter disclosed he offered Robinson a last-minute deal to avoid prison time if she only accepted responsibility for her part in the cheating scandal, but she refused.  So, despite pleas for mercy from her family, Baxter sentenced Robinson to a year in prison along with four on probation.  The judge did not hide his frustration.

"You and your client have had the keys in your pocket for over a year, up until yesterday, to avoid this," said Baxter.  "I don't know if people just drank Kool-Aid or what.  I mean, the evidence is overwhelming in this case, and it's an ugly, ugly chapter. I didn't want to be in this position, but I'm here, and I reached out to you yesterday, and you rejected that.  So here I am."

Afterward, Baxter took up the matter of former Gideons Elementary School Principal Armstead Salters.  Salters took a plea deal, admitted to cheating and agreed to testify for the state in return for a lighter sentence.  But in October 2014, Salters recanted his original plea and lied on the stand, saying he never felt any pressure from higher-ups to cheat on the CRCT.

"It was perjury," said Baxter.  "Out-and-out perjury.  It's one of the worst lying episodes I've ever seen in court."

Salters read an apology.  "I have no explanation for my statement except to say that I just made some bad decisions," Salters read.  "I certainly never expected or desired my tenure with the Atlanta schools to end this way."

The judge said he could have sentenced Salters to 20 years in jail but sentenced the 76-year old man to eight straight weekends in the Fulton County Jail.

Other convicted defendants appeared in court Tuesday to announce their intention to appeal those convictions, though they're asking for public defenders to help them do it.  The defendants are trying to have themselves declared indigent so the public defender’s officer can represent them.  The cost of the voluminous seven-month-long trial transcript alone is $32,000.