One of the first defendants to go to prison for her part in the Atlanta Public Schools cheating scandal has been released early after serving less than half of her three-year sentence.
Tamara Cotman, who previously worked for APS as a school reform team executive director, was among 11 former educators convicted of racketeering in 2015.
Those who cheated were accused of changing students’ answers on standardized tests and receiving bonuses and raises based on the bogus scores. The case made national news, as did a judge’s decision to sentence teachers and administrators to prison.
Cotman received a three-year sentence, then spent several years free on bond while appealing her conviction. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to consider her case, closing the book on her last legal option. In October 2018, she turned herself in to begin serving her prison time.
Cotman was released on parole last week, according to the Georgia State Board of Pardons and Paroles.
By state law, Cotman became eligible for parole in September 2019 after serving a third of her sentence, which ends in September 2021, according to parole board spokesman Steve Hayes.
“The board exercised its discretion to make parole decisions and released her at this time based on her institutional success,” he said, in a written statement.
Such decisions “are based on what’s in the best interest of public safety,” he wrote.
Cotman’s attorney, Benjamin Davis, released a statement on behalf of his client saying: “We are extremely grateful to the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles for granting an early release.”
The conditions of Cotman’s parole are standard. She must follow a rehabilitation plan that requires her to work and be drug tested. She also can’t possess a gun or leave the state without permission.
The day she reported for prison in 2018, Cotman held an emotional news conference during which she proclaimed her innocence.
“I was wrongly convicted, and today I will be sent to prison wrongly,” she said at the time.
She and her supporters then gathered outside the Fulton County Jail to clasp hands, pray and sing a hymn before she walked in to be processed and later transferred to a state prison.
Cotman and co-defendant Angela Williamson, who taught at Dobbs Elementary School, were the first two convicted educators to report to prison in the APS case. Williamson had been sentenced to two years and was granted early release in June.
Two of the 11 defendants convicted of racketeering avoided prison time by admitting guilt in court after the jury’s verdict. Seven others continue to pursue appeals and remain free on bond.
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