Gov. Sonny Perdue’s special investigators sent a letter Dec. 9 to Superintendent Beverly Hall claiming that Atlanta Public Schools administrators are giving their personal criminal defense attorneys access to school grounds so they can interview potential witnesses, raising “serious witness intimidation concerns.”
In the letter, Mike Bowers, Bob Wilson and Richard Hyde, investigators checking into cheating at Atlanta schools on the Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests, told Hall to tell her administrators to stop allowing their defense attorneys to interview teachers and instructors on school property, on school time and at the direction of school principals.
The investigators claimed this appears to put the school district’s stamp of approval on the practice and can let administrators and principals use the power of their office to compel witnesses to cooperate.
Hall responded to the investigators by letter Dec. 14, stating defense lawyers hired by Atlanta Public Schools administrators will not be allowed to interrupt other school employees during school hours. Hall said she will tell staffers that their attorneys cannot disrupt the educational environment.
In her letter, Hall told the investigators she was concerned members of the news media had a copy of their letter to her before she could respond.
“I understand that you assured APS staff during a meeting shortly after your appointment that the media would not be contacted during this special investigation,” Hall wrote. “I hope that you and those working with you will abide by those assurances going forward.”
In August, Perdue appointed the investigators to determine whether Atlanta school officials falsified scores on the CRCTs.
“It’s very serious business and we want what could be construed as interference with the investigation to be stopped,” Bowers said. “It’s not that the defense attorneys don’t have a right to talk to anyone they please, but it shouldn’t be under those conditions.”
The APS test-tampering scandal already has resulted in dozens of GBI agents being dispatched to Atlanta public schools to interview teachers and administrators, the investigators have said.
On Nov. 30, Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard designated Bowers, a former state attorney general, and Wilson, a former DeKalb district attorney, as special assistant district attorneys. Howard said he may convene a special grand jury.