ATLANTA – Six former Atlanta Public Schools employees – four teachers, a principal and a secretary – pleaded guilty on Monday to participating in the district’s test-cheating scandal.

Those six join 11 other “educators who have already pleaded guilty, with a handful more in active negotiations,” according to the New York Times.

By pleading guilty to participating in the nation’s worst-ever test-cheating scandal, the defendants will be expected to “testify against others at the upcoming racketeering conspiracy trial,” the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports.

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That means many of them will be asked to testify against former Atlanta schools Superintendent Beverly Hall, who prosecutors have depicted “as the mastermind of a scheme that led to charges against 35 educators accused of manipulating test scores,” reports the Times.

The defendants choosing to stand trial were told by Fulton County Superior Court Judge Jerry Baxter that they’d be treated fairly, but would face “severe consequences” if they are eventually found guilty.

The New York Times notes that none of the six educators who pleaded guilty received jail time, but instead will be required to perform “community service and, in some cases, pay back bonuses that were tied to high test scores.”

Amazingly, some of the defendants who’ve pleaded guilty could eventually return to the classroom – at least in theory. Those sentenced under the first offender act can have their convictions erased, the Journal-Constitution reports.

Former Atlanta middle school teacher Starlette Mitchell used part of her public apology – which was read aloud in the courtroom – to express her desire to return to her “passion of teaching.”

Having a conviction erased is one thing. That’s a matter for the courts to determine, based on the power granted them by the state. But we hardly see how any school district could be forced – or even allowed – to hire teachers previously found guilty of cheating.

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They crossed the ultimate line and compromised the integrity of their very important profession. Students were cheated out of real educational opportunities. They should never be allowed to step foot in a classroom again.

We know the tired union argument, that these people were forced to cheat due to the constant pressure of standardized testing, and it doesn’t even deserve to be considered in any discussion about how to deal with the guilty parties. These so-called educators had a job to do and they blew it for themselves and their students, period.

The trial for those defendants who’ve pleaded not guilty is expected to begin in May.