Atlanta Public Schools Cheating Scandal – Civil Liability Next?


By: Wayne S. Melnick

On Wednesday, April 1, 2015, a Fulton County Superior Court jury handed down guilty verdicts to 11 of the 12 defendants charged in the notorious Atlanta Public Schools (“APS”) cheating scandal in which educators and administrators were alleged to have acted in a wide-spread conspiracy to artificially inflate grades in order to obtain and/or maintain grant money for their schools as well as personal bonuses and prestige for themselves.  Hopefully, this closes one chapter of any ugly period in the history of APS.

However, the specter of civil liability now rears its head.  As an attorney that defends teachers, administrators, and school districts, it is only natural to wonder whether (or when) civil lawsuits will follow. During the criminal trial testimony, prosecutors argued that students were robbed of the opportunity to learn and other grant money to get tutoring otherwise needed.  Does this provide “damages” that are compensable under the law?  If so, what is the cause of action for these wrongdoings?

Without delving deep, it does not take much imagination to see where federal or state civil RICO claims would be fairly easy to establish in light of the criminal convictions (which are required as predicate acts to such a claim).  To the extent there were students with disabilities that were affected, perhaps IDEA or § 504 claims are ripe for assertion as well.

While what happened here is localized to Atlanta, in light of the pressures that are put on teachers and administrators to succeed, it is not far-fetched to think this could happen anywhere in the United States.  As such, it is imperative for school districts and their insurers everywhere to consider the ramifications.