Teaching Profession News in Brief

Atlanta Educators Headed to Prison

By Lisa Stark — October 09, 2018 1 min read
Tamara Cotman, center, a former Atlanta educator convicted in a cheating scandal, will soon begin serving a three-year prison term after exhausting her appeals.
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Two former Atlanta Public Schools educators, convicted in the district’s cheating scandal in 2015, soon will head to prison after exhausting the appeals of their 2015 convictions.

They will be the first to begin serving their sentences, out of the 11 teachers and administrators convicted of a conspiracy to boost student scores on state tests.

The latest turn in the long-running case comes after the U.S. Supreme Court last week declined to hear an appeal filed by Tamara Cotman and Angela Williamson. Cotman was a regional administrator and Williamson taught 4th grade at Dobbs Elementary School. Both women have been free on bond during the appeals process.

State investigators said Cotman threatened educators with their jobs if they didn’t boost scores by “any means possible.” Williamson reportedly prompted students to change incorrect answers and told them they’d be held back in 4th grade if they told of the cheating.

Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard, who prosecuted the case and offered them plea deals said, “We are not happy or elated about what is to happen with them. We would have preferred they would have taken responsibility many days before and we would hope we would not be at this point.”

After their convictions, they appealed to the Georgia Court of Appeals, which upheld the convictions. When the Georgia Supreme Court declined to review the case, they appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Williamson “is shaken by the decision of the Supreme Court, but she is resolute in her maintenance of her innocence,” said attorney Gerald Griggs. “She is preparing to turn herself into the Fulton County Sheriff to begin serving her sentence.” Williamson faces up to two years in prison.

Cotman was sentenced to three years.

Nearly 200 Atlanta educators were initially linked to systematic cheating, either by guiding students to correct answers or erasing and changing answers after students turned in their tests. Prosecutors said educators were under enormous pressure from then-Superintendent Beverly Hall to boost test scores.

Hall was also charged in the case but died from cancer before going to trial.

Of the 11 educators who were ultimately convicted, Cotman and Williamson were the only ones who appealed directly to the higher courts. Two others accepted plea bargains, and the remaining seven defendants plan to ask for a new trial.

A version of this article appeared in the October 10, 2018 edition of Education Week as Atlanta Educators Headed to Prison

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