Ex-official: Atlanta school chief ordered test evidence destroyed

From the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

Superintendent Beverly Hall ordered the destruction of investigative documents that detailed “systematic” cheating on standardized tests in the Atlanta Public Schools, according to a former high-ranking district official.

Hall also instructed subordinates to omit “adverse findings” from a new version of the report and then publicly cited the revised document in an aggressive rebuttal of the cheating allegations, the former official says.

When she protested, the former official says, her supervisor said the district had the right to “sanitize” the investigation and that “the matter was closed” because Hall “had directed that all other documents be destroyed.”

Destroying or altering government records is a felony in Georgia, carrying a prison sentence of as much as 10 years.

In a statement Tuesday, district officials broadly denied the former official’s allegations.

The accusations appear in a letter to the superintendent from a lawyer representing Colinda Howard, who from 2005 to 2010 headed the district’s internal investigations office. The lawyer was seeking a monetary settlement for Howard, who resigned under pressure after she was accused of making lewd comments to male employees. The lawyer alleged the district investigated Howard as retaliation for her vocal opposition to “illegal and unethical actions she was directed to undertake by her superiors.” The district later cleared Howard and paid her a small settlement.

Lawyers for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution obtained a copy of the letter and related documents, which came to light in a criminal investigation of cheating by teachers and school administrators on the Criterion-Referenced Competency Test. A team of special investigators, appointed last August when state officials found the district’s own inquiry inadequate, is expected to report its findings to Gov. Nathan Deal this month, which could result in prosecutions of district officials. The investigators declined to comment Tuesday.

The inquiry’s conclusion coincides with Hall’s departure after 12 years as superintendent. Amid the cheating scandal, she announced last fall she would not seek an extension of her contract past its June 30 expiration.

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