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Jury Selection Starts in Atlanta Schools Cheating Scandal

A dozen of the 35 defendants indicted in the widespread cheating scandal in Atlanta Public Schools are set to go on trial Monday when jury selection is expected to begin.

The defendants, who include former principals, administrators, teachers, and testing coordinators, face charges of influencing witnesses and lying to investigators in connection with what prosecutors say was a widespread conspiracy to cheat on Georgia's state standardized tests, the Criterion-Referenced Competency Test. 

The trial could last as many as four to six months, after a one-to-two-week jury selection process, the Associated Press reported. 

The defendants are charged under the state's Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations statute or RICO,  which is more often associated in the public's mind with organized crime. 

Former Superintendent Beverly Hall will not be among those in court on Monday. Hall, who was charged with racketeering, theft, influencing witnesses, conspiracy, and making false statements in connection with the cheating, has Stage IV breast cancer, according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution, and Judge Jerry Baxter has said that the trial of the others will continue without her.

Hall—named National Superintendent of the Year in 2009 by the American Association of School Administrators—has denied knowledge of the cheating. The charges against her are still pending and a trial date will be set if her health improves, the Journal Constitution reports. 

Twenty-one defendants have already accepted plea deals, and they may be called to testify against some of their former colleagues, according to the Associated Press.

Prosecutors say the cheating goes all the way back to 2005 and was prompted by pressures to meet federal and state standards, qualify for bonuses, and avoid termination or replacement, according to the AP.

A 2011 investigation by the state found that Hall had created a "culture of fear, intimidation, and retaliation" in the district, according to the AP. At least 178 educators in 44 schools were involved in the cheating, some by erasing students' incorrect answering and inserting correct ones in order to boost their schools' performance. Thirty-five educators were indicted last year in connection with the cheating. 

The district is now under new leadership. Meria Carstarphen, a former Austin, Texas, superintendent, is now running the 50,000 school district.  

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