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Prosecutors shouldn't hesitate to go after Beverly Hall

Atlanta schools cheating investigation should pay no attention to politics

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In the weeks leading up to Beverly Hall's retirement, there was a lot of talk about the now-former Atlanta Public Schools superintendent's legacy. Some will remember Hall as an efficient CEO who fostered strong ties with the local business community and rid schools of leaders who'd proven ineffective. But the nature of the collective unconscious being what it is, it's likely that far more people will remember Hall as the woman who was in charge during the test score cheating scandal.

On June 30, the same day Hall officially retires (and the same day this issue of CL hits the streets), outside investigators are expected to submit their probe into widespread cheating on state standardized tests — the results of which Hall herself has said will be "alarming," and could very well result in the prosecution of multiple APS employees. More alarming still is the accusation that Hall attempted to cover up the cheating by ordering that incriminating documents be destroyed. If her involvement is proven, she could face as much as 10 years in prison.

Whether Hall was complicit in the cheating scandal or whether she was oblivious, the situation doesn't bode well for APS' image abroad. But, ultimately, if it does appear that Hall participated in the cheating — even if after the fact, in the form of a cover-up — neither Hall's legacy nor the reputation of Atlanta's public schools should prevent prosecutors from holding her accountable. Hall should not be let off the hook because it's politically convenient.

When the cheating first came to light, the school system put together a commission — the so-called "blue-ribbon" commission — to investigate the possibility that students' test scores had been altered after the fact. But the media and community cried foul when it was revealed that the commission was composed, for the most part, of people linked to Hall and the district, many of whom might have had a stake in containing a scandal.

There have been several boosterish pieces written about Hall in recent weeks. Former mayor Shirley Franklin wrote on her blog, Blogging While Blue, "As Beverly Hall prepares to leave, I think when she came to Atlanta ... [s]he knew she couldn't do it alone and she reached out to the entire community. It is also fair to say that she has seen victory and defeat. Despite the serious challenges during the last two years, in my opinion the victories far outnumber the defeats." Franklin pointed to a $120 million increase in the amount of money students received in scholarships between 2000 and 2010, an increase in the graduation rate, the $160 million in funds the district received from philanthropic groups, and improvements to the district's facilities.

But there's a distinct possibility that in building the district's reputation, Hall did just as much to besmirch it. And for Atlanta and the district to really learn from this catastrophe, we need to deal with it. That means investigating it thoroughly and taking the culpable to task. If Hall is among them, so be it.

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