ATLANTA — Confusion, anger and charges of racism played out at the Fulton County Jail here Tuesday as the arduous process of booking 35 educators in the nation's largest school-cheating scandal began.
The biggest focus was on Beverly L. Hall, the former school superintendent who rose through the education ranks in Newark, N.J., and New York City and who was named superintendent of the year during her 12 years with the Atlanta district.
A grand jury charged Hall and the other educators Friday with essentially running a conspiracy in which standardized test scores were secretly raised as a way to get bonuses and ensure job security.
As the day unfolded Tuesday, however, it became clear that the judicial system was unprepared for the initial stages of the prosecution.
The teachers, principals and administrators had been told that they had to report to jail by Tuesday, at which time they could argue to have bail amounts as high as $7.5 million reduced. As evening came, only 18 had been processed, but several had won a break in their bond requirements.
Most notably, Hall negotiated her $7.5 million bond — considered a largely punitive figure set by the grand jurors, some of whom argued for it to be $10 million — down to $200,000.
Lawyers for the defendants, saying they were baffled by what appeared to be a lack of coordination between District Attorney Paul L. Howard Jr., the jail and the courts, were working to try to reduce the amount of bond set for teachers who had no criminal records and to keep them from spending time in jail.
All totaled, the educators face 65 charges in a cheating scandal that first came to light in 2009. A team of state-appointed investigators spent 21 months looking into allegations that teachers and administrators at a handful of Atlanta schools had routinely changed test scores or given students correct answers. That report became the basis for the criminal charges issued Friday.
While defense lawyers worked to have their clients freed, a group of black clergy members and former educators called the charges and the bail extreme and an indication of a deeper, long-simmering racial divide in the city and the state.
In a blog post, former Mayor Shirley Franklin of Atlanta on Tuesday called the fury surrounding the indictments "a public hanging" and called for fairness and justice as the case proceeds.