The Atlanta Public Schools system has been ordered by Fulton County Superior Court Judge Craig L. Schwall to restrain from continuing its internal inquiry of a high-level official who allegedly urged principals not to cooperate with the state investigation of test score cheating.

According to published reports, Schwall approved a motion Feb. 21 by the state investigators to restrain the Atlanta Public Schools from questioning witnesses to a Nov. 17 meeting at which Tamara Cotman, an area superintendent, reportedly encouraged about a dozen principals to refuse to cooperate with the state investigation of cheating on the 2009 Criterion-Referenced Competency Test (CRCT).

In a statement issued Feb. 21 by APS communications director Stephan Alford, Superintendent Beverly Hall said the district “will honor the court’s order, as well as continue to cooperate with the investigation.”

The judge scheduled a hearing Feb. 25 for further arguments.

In court documents, the state investigators said the school district has been “withholding evidence and intimidating witnesses whose unvarnished testimony could lead to the discovery of how much upper-level APS administrators know about the widespread cheating.”

Cotman reportedly demoted one witness to the Nov. 17 meeting who later spoke to a lawyer investigating the episode for the district. The witness, a principal who since has been reinstated, told investigators Cotman said Hall and Deputy Superintendent Kathy Augustine had “approved of this demotion.”

“APS has shown its willingness to ‘investigate’ and then discipline witnesses who report crimes by APS personnel to law enforcement and the special investigators,” the investigators wrote to the judge. Consequently, they said, other district employees are in danger of additional harassment.

John Schaffner

Joe Earle

Joe Earle is Editor-at-Large. He has more than 30-years of experience with daily newspapers, including the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.