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A message for APS students back in school 

Don't let the cheating scandal cast a pall over the new school year

Dear Atlanta Public School students,

So the new school year started on Monday. These first few weeks of school can be stressful, huh? Getting used to new schedules, new classmates, new teachers. Or, in your case this year, lack of teachers. We'd like to tell you it'll all be OK. But you know as well as anyone that this year's going to be a challenge.

You've probably noticed some longtime teachers are nowhere to be seen. Since state investigators released their report in July that accused nearly 180 APS teachers and principals of being involved in improperly changing test answers, more than 40 have stepped down. The school system has begun termination proceedings against many others. New principals and teachers are being hired, although in the meantime, you might find that the librarian who regularly shushes noisy kids in the media center is handing out your next homework assignment. We'd love to tell you they're up to the job, but you're not that dumb. In fact, you might have read news reports with quotes from newly minted teachers, saying things like "I'm not prepared to teach the very children who have been cheated by the cheating scandal." Dang. That's gotta make you feel anxious.

Thanks to a $10 million shortfall, you might find yourselves in larger classes. Interim Superintendent Erroll Davis says he'll try to fill the budget gap without laying off or furloughing teachers, all while fighting to keep the district's accreditation. He'll need luck on his side.

Unfortunately, judging from the lackluster crop of candidates running for an empty seat on the school board, Davis might not get much in the way of help from the next generation of elected officials. A couple of candidates are also-rans from earlier races. Another faces serious questions about his residency status and character. None is an obvious choice for the job by virtue of experience in the field of education, demonstrated leadership ability or community backing. You've heard outrage from parents, activists and civic boosters about the sad state of the system. But apparently that outrage wasn't enough to encourage a sterling candidate to step forward.

The truth, kids, is that you deserve better, but the adults have failed you. At the very time in your life when you need real role models, the people society tells you to look up to have proven themselves untrustworthy, unethical and ineffectual. Many of you are probably struggling with growing up, looking at the temptations of adulthood and wondering which path to take. At a time in your life when you need reasons to stay in school and work hard, the very institution you're asked to devote your time and energy to has fallen apart. It's hypocritical. It's not fair. It's not your fault. Don't allow the screwed-up school system you belong to dictate your own failure. We know it won't be easy. But we believe in you.

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