Tamara Cotman and several of the former Atlanta Public Schools educators, among them former APS Dobbs Elementary principal Dana Evans (from left, seated), former APS school reform team director Sharon Davis Williams and former APS Dobbs Elementary teacher Angela Williamson, who were convicted and sentenced to prison, speak during a press conference at the law offices of defense attorney George Lawson on April 17, 2015. KENT D. JOHNSON /KDJOHNSON@AJC.COM

Highest Georgia court won’t hear 2 ex-APS educators’ appeals

The Supreme Court of Georgia will not hear appeals of two former Atlanta Public Schools educators convicted three years ago in a districtwide cheating conspiracy.

The supreme court on Monday rejected Tamara Cotman and Angela Williamson’s petitions for an appeal, meaning that an August ruling from the Georgia Court of Appeals that upheld their convictions still stands.

Cotman’s attorney Benjamin Davis filed notice Tuesday that he plans to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to consider the case. He did not provide further comment.

It was not immediately clear what will happen next for Williamson. Her attorney could not be reached for comment.

VIDEO: Previous coverage of the APS cheating scandal

The cheating scandal involving Atlanta teachers began to unravel in 2008. More than 80 teachers confessed, and 32 pleaded to charges or went to trail and were convicted.

Cotman and Williamson were among 11 former educators convicted of racketeering in the APS test-cheating conspiracy in which educators corrected student answers on standardized tests and received bonuses and raises based on fake scores.

Cotman, a former school reform team executive director, was sentenced to three years in prison, while Williamson, a former Dobbs Elementary teacher, was sentenced to two years.

They were the only two of the 11 who went directly to the appeals court. Two others agreed to admit guilt in court to avoid a prison sentence. The remaining seven have filed preliminary motions for a new trial in Fulton County Superior Court.

All of those appealing have remained free on bond pending the outcome of their appeals.

Cotman failed to report cheating complaints and punished, terminated or transferred those who reported their concerns to her or her staff, according to the court documents filed by prosecutors.

Other Dobbs teachers testified that Williamson “taught them how to cheat” and they saw her cheating, prosecutors wrote in court documents. Several students also testified that she gave them answers to the 2009 Criterion-Referenced Competency Test, but the students said they didn’t report it because Williamson threatened: “If you tell anyone, that will be the last person you tell, I promise you that.”

The cheating scandal that engulfed the Atlanta school district came to light after The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported in 2008 about suspicious scores on state standardized tests.

The school district — then under Superintendent Beverly Hall — denied impropriety, but a state investigation ultimately revealed a massive conspiracy to inflate scores at dozens of schools. Hall also was charged but died before a trial.

At an earlier trial, Cotman was found not guilty of trying to influence a witness. During the later, long-running trial of multiple defendants, Cotman and Williamson were both convicted of racketeering. Williamson also was found guilty of four counts, including of false statements and writings.

They filed appeals based on procedural grounds, including an argument that the judge erred in his instructions to jurors about how they should decide about the racketeering charge.

The appeals court affirmed Cotman and Williamson’s convictions in August, prompting them to ask the state supreme court to review the matter.

The Georgia Supreme Court denied Cotman’s petition and dismissed Williamson’s petition, which the court said was filed late.

The Fulton County public defender’s office is representing six of those convicted in their efforts to obtain a new Fulton County trial, said Vernon Pitts, circuit public defender.

They still plan to pursue a new trial, and his office is working to understand the complexities of the case, made more challenging since public defenders were not involved in the initial trial.

Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard, Jr., who was not available for an interview Tuesday, said in February he hoped that if Cotman and Williamson failed in their requests to the supreme court, the lingering appeals from others would be dropped.

Not so, Pitts said.

He said his office will raise issues that are different than those raised by Cotman and Williamson.

“We are looking at it from all angles, and we are trying to take our time and make sure we understand what the case is about,” Pitts said.

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