Ex-Atlanta educator found not guilty of school cheating
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS September 6, 2013 10:38AM
ATLANTA — A jury has found a former Atlanta educator not guilty after the first trial connected to Atlanta’s school cheating scandal.
The verdict clearing Tamara Cotman of wrongdoing was announced around 11 a.m. Friday. Cotman, a former area director for Atlanta Public Schools, had been accused of trying to influence a witness.
Testimony began Friday in Cotman’s trial in Fulton County Superior Court. It was the first of about three dozen former administrators and teachers to stand trial.
She is among 35 former administrators and teachers, including Cotman’s former boss, Superintendent Beverly Hall, who faced criminal charges for allegedly changing students’ answers on standardized tests. The others have yet to be tried.
The charges stem from a 2011 state investigation, which concluded that cheating occurred at 44 Atlanta schools so educators could avoid losing their jobs and earn bonuses.
In Cotman’s trial, a witness for the prosecution testified that Cotman rebuffed a teacher who reported that she had been given standardized test answer sheets, and the teacher was out of a job soon afterward.
Mary Gordon, who taught at Turner Middle School, said Cotman told her “they just do that at Turner” when asked about the answer sheets. Then Gordon’s principal put her on an improvement plan, and Gordon quit out of frustration, ending a 29-year career.
Gordon testified for the prosecution to back up charges alleging Cotman harassed and demoted a principal who she believed reported to the school board that Cotman gave instructions for school employees to tell cheating scandal investigators to “go to hell.”
But Cotman’s attorney, Benjamin Davis, had told reporters during the trial that he believed in his client’s innocence.
Cotman stood trial before the other defendants because her attorney requested a speedy trial on the single count of influencing a witness.