Former teacher in APS cheating case gets out of prison early

A former Atlanta Public Schools teacher convicted in the notorious 2015 cheating trial has been released from prison about 15 months before the end of her two-year prison sentence.

Angela Williamson, who taught at Dobbs Elementary School, was one of 11 former educators convicted of racketeering in the district-wide cheating scandal. Teachers and administrators changed students' answers on standardized tests and received bonuses and raises based on the falsely inflated scores.

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After failed attempts to appeal her conviction, Williamson began serving a two-year sentence last fall. She and Tamara Cotman, who worked as a school reform team executive director, were the first two defendants to serve prison time in a case that garnered national attention.

Williamson’s prison sentence was to expire Sept. 23, 2020; the Georgia State Board of Pardons and Paroles granted her early release effective June 4.

“She wants to move on with her life. She wants to get back to being a mother and a wife,” said her attorney, Gerald Griggs. “She’s elated to be able to return to her family and her children and to be a productive citizen.”

Parole board members consider an offender’s criminal and social history, education and other factors before making a decision to release someone early, said board spokesman Steve Hayes.

“State law makes someone with a two year or less sentence parole-eligible after serving nine months,” he said, in a written statement.

Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard, Jr. declined to comment through a representative, who said the office was not contacted by the parole board about Williamson’s early release.

Griggs said Williamson was granted early release “because of her model status.”

Her release comes with conditions. She must follow a rehabilitation plan that requires her to work and be drug tested. She’s not allowed to have a gun, and she can’t leave the state or change her residence without permission.

Williamson may be arrested if she violates any of the conditions.

While Griggs praised the parole board’s decision, he called it “a travesty” that his client was sent to prison.

He said some framed the decision to prosecute the Atlanta cheating case as a way to ensure a quality education that would send a message to educators that such behavior would be punished harshly.

But Griggs said problems continue in education, despite the Atlanta prosecution, convictions and prison sentences. He pointed to the recent national college admissions bribery scandal and, closer to home, a group of nine Gwinnett educators who resigned or retired amid a cheating investigation that began in the spring.

“It hasn’t really changed anything, but it’s just drastically affected teachers like Ms. Williamson,” Griggs said.

Cotman, who also began her prison sentence last fall, received a three-year sentence and will be eligible for parole in late September.

Of the 11 defendants found guilty of racketeering, two avoided prison time after admitting guilt in court. Seven of the defendants are seeking a new trial.

Our reporting

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution first reported questions about test answers that led to an investigation and criminal charges against former Atlanta Public Schools educators. The AJC has followed the case closely for more than 10 years, including the latest development, the release of one of the two who were sentenced to prison last fall.