Testimony continues in APS cheating trial

Former principal reveals details of “go to hell” meeting in cheating case

A former Atlanta elementary school principal testified Wednesday about how her boss asked her to tell GBI agents investigating cheating to “go to hell.”

Jimmye Hawkins, who was the principal at Scott Elementary School, is the key witness in the case against Tamara Cotman, a former Atlanta Public Schools regional director who’s on trial for retaliating against Hawkins.

Cotman is one of 35 former Atlanta educators facing criminal charges related to allegations that they corrected students’ answers on standardized tests.

Hawkins cried in court as she told jurors about the difficulty of deciding what to write when Cotman handed out memos from a notepad that said “go to hell” at the top.

“How could I have taught children for 29 and a half years and tell them they have to stand up for what they believe in, and then tell the GBI to go to hell?,” Hawkins said. “How could I sleep at night? I couldn’t do it.”

While some of the principals in the meeting wrote the names of investigators or former Gov. Sonny Perdue on their “go to hell” memos, Hawkins wrote “Sarah Palin” because she said she didn’t think the GBI had acted unprofessionally in its investigation.

Prosecutors have said that Cotman harassed and demoted Hawkins after an anonymous letter told the school board about the “go to hell” meeting.

That allegation is the basis for the charge against Cotman of obstructing a witness.

Hawkins said Cotman pressured principals to resist the GBI as it investigated testing irregularities in 2010. The investigation concluded in 2011 that 185 administrators and teachers had participated in cheating.

“You always had this threat over you that what Ms. Cotman giveth, Ms. Cotman can take away,” Hawkins said. “You always had this threat over you that she could remove you at any time.”

In testimony Tuesday, another former principal, Mark MyGrant of North Atlanta High School, said he was the one who sent the anonymous letter about the “go to hell” meeting after learning about it from Hawkins and two other principals.

But prosecutors claim that Cotman targeted Hawkins for harassment and transfer because Cotman thought she was behind the letter.

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.