First Trial Ends in Acquittal in School Scandal in Atlanta

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ATLANTA -- The first Atlanta school administrator to face trial in the largest school cheating scandal in the country was found not guilty on Friday.

The case, heard by a Fulton County Superior Court jury, centered on whether Tamara Cotman, a former administrator, influenced a witness during the investigation of widespread cheating in the 52,000-student district.

That investigation resulted in 65 indictments against 35 teachers and administrators, among them Beverly Hall, the superintendent once highly regarded for her work turning around a district plagued by poor academic performance.

Ms. Cotman's three-week trial was narrowly focused, and it was far from clear whether the acquittal could be counted as an indicator of how the broader case, scheduled to start next spring, would fare.

Prosecutors hope to prove that a group of educators conspired to falsely raise scores on Georgia's Criterion-Referenced Competency Test, then covered up the cheating and retaliated against people who tried to report it.

Bonuses, federal money and Dr. Hall's national reputation were tied to higher test scores, and thus the motivation for cheating, the indictment alleges.

Prosecutors said Ms. Cotman, who oversaw 21 Atlanta schools, influenced witnesses and advised principals under investigation to essentially rebel against state investigators.

Benjamin Davis, her lawyer, said during the trial that the case was not about cheating and that his client never witnessed any criminal behavior and did not try to block the investigation.

Prosecutors tried to portray Ms. Cotman as an operator in an atmosphere of deceit that stemmed from immense pressure to protect jobs and produce high test scores at any cost.

"She did it on the backs of babies," Fani Willis, an assistant district attorney, said during closing arguments.

As preparations for what will surely be a complex and logistically challenging racketeering trial of nearly three dozen educators continue, personal troubles are beginning to surface.

Dr. Hall has had a diagnosis of breast cancer, said Richard Deane, her lawyer, who added that the court had been advised of her medical condition.

In addition, Willie Davenport, 66, an elementary school principal named in the indictment, had breast cancer and died this week.

education

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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