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Atlanta educators surrendering in cheating scandal

By David Beasley

ATLANTA (Reuters) - Former educators indicted in a cheating scandal that has rocked Atlanta's public school system began turning themselves in to authorities on Tuesday, ahead of a deadline to surrender voluntarily.

At least 10 of the 35 former Atlanta public school educators indicted by a grand jury last week had reported to the Fulton County jail by late afternoon, according to jail records.

They face charges including racketeering and making false statements for allegedly conspiring to alter and improve standardized test scores to obtain cash bonuses, according to prosecutors.

Bonds for some of the educators who surrendered were set as high as $1 million and some of their attorneys complained the amounts were excessive. Yvette Jones, spokeswoman for Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard, said some lawyers were negotiating with prosecutors to lower the bond amounts.

Former Atlanta School Superintendent Beverly Hall was among the former teachers, principals and administrators named in a 65-count indictment returned on Friday.

David Bailey, one of Hall's attorneys, said an agreement had been reached with prosecutors to set Hall's bond at $200,000 and that she planned to turn herself in later Tuesday.

"We believe she is innocent and are committed to her defense," said Bailey.

All of the defendants had been given a Tuesday deadline by the Fulton County district attorney's office to surrender or face arrest in their homes or workplaces.

The Atlanta cheating scandal is one of the largest in the nation's history, said Bob Schaeffer, education director for FairTest, a nonprofit group that focuses on ending the misuse of standardized tests.

In the last four academic years, there have been testing scandals in 37 states and Washington, D.C., he added.

The American Federation of Teachers and the Georgia Federation of Teachers said on Tuesday in a joint statement on the Atlanta scandal, "We have to re-order our priorities and move our schools from a test-based culture to one that is deeply rooted in instruction and learning."

Hall was named national superintendent of the year by the American Association of School Administrators in 2009, the same year prosecutors contend widespread cheating took place.

She received a $78,000 bonus that year from the school system for improving its test scores, prosecutors said.

"The money she received, we are alleging, was ill gotten and it was theft," Howard said at a news conference on Friday.

(Editing by Tom Brown, Philip Barbara and Steve Orlofsky)

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