Atlanta educator prevails in tribunal

An Atlanta educator on Saturday became the first teacher to prevail in a series of disciplinary tribunals held as a result of a widespread cheating investigation.

Now Angela Williamson, formerly of Dobbs Elementary School, awaits a decision from the Atlanta school board on the status of her employment. The board can follow the superintendent's recommendation to terminate her or vote to reinstate her.

Atlanta Superintendent Erroll Davis has said previously that any educator exonerated during a tribunal would be reinstated.

Around 180 Atlanta educators were accused by state investigators of cheating on the Georgia Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests in 2009. So far, nine educators have had their terminations upheld at disciplinary hearings. The school board has affirmed all those decisions.

Several educators, who were placed on paid administrative leave last year, have either resigned or retired.

According to state investigators, in 2008 and 2009, Williamson prompted students to change their answers from wrong to right by coughing, frowning or telling them to "go back over your answers."

But GBI investigators couldn't find the tape on which they say Williamson admitted to testing improprieties. In previous interviews, Williamson had maintained her innocence.

"I knew all along that I was innocent," a tearful Williamson said. "This was a draining process. Now I can get my life back."

Her lawyer, Gerald Griggs, said they will consider suing the school district now to clear her name.

"We take these a case at a time," said APS spokesman Keith Bromery. "We would not bring a case of termination unless we felt there was due cause."

Griggs argued Williamson was trained to walk back and forth through the aisles during testing and tell students to go back over their answers if they had questions.

"This sent a message that APS needs to look at its own policies before blaming the teachers," Griggs said.

"Our argument is not that these scores weren’t inflated," he said. "Our argument is that Angela had nothing to do with it. It’s impossible for her to have hovered over each child and given the correct answers for a test she didn’t know the answers to."

Last month, a tribunal upheld the firing of Derrick Broadwater, also a former teacher at Dobbs. Investigators said he helped students with words they didn’t know and prompted them to recheck answers if he suspected something was incorrect. Broadwater didn't show up to Saturday's hearing. A tape of his confession was played at the tribunal.

Where they stand now

About 89 educators of 178 suspected of cheating remain on the Atlanta Public Schools district's payroll, including teachers and administrators. They can make their case to keep their jobs before an APS tribunal. Once the hearings are held and terminations are recommended, the matter goes to the school board for approval. If the board upholds the decision, the employee is terminated immediately.

Where the cases stand

1 Number of educators whose recommended firing was not upheld by a tribunal.

9 Number of educators whose recommended firing has been upheld by a tribunal.

50 Number of letters sent to educators outlining charges and the school district's intent to terminate.

78 Number of educators notified that their contracts will not be renewed; some will have the option of a hearing.