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Former school nurse pleads guilty to tampering

Posted: February 10, 2014 - 9:33pm

A former Soldotna school nurse pleaded guilty to a charge of tampering with public records Monday afternoon at the Kenai Courthouse after allegations that she forged a signature on school immunization records.

Donna Cotman, 65, a retired school nurse from Redoubt Elementary School, entered a guilty plea of tampering with public records, a Class A misdemeanor. Defense attorney Peter Ehrhardt and State District Attorney Helen Hickman came to an agreement to drop four counts of second-degree forgery, a Class C felony, for the change of plea. Kenai District Court Judge Dan Ogg sentenced Cotman to 80 hours of community service, a fine of $1,500 and no jail time.

According to a Soldotna Police affidavit, a parent contacted Sgt. Duane Kant on April 17, 2013 about a forged signature on his child’s immunization exemption form. A police investigation involving the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District found that Cotman forged a parent signature on four forms between January 2012 to February 2012.

All students in Alaska schools are required to “be immunized against diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, polio, measles, mumps, rubella and Hepatitis A and B, unless exempt for medical or religious reasons,” according to Alaska statute.

In the affidavit, Aaron Parker said someone forged his wife’s signature on the form, which indicated his daughter was missing her Hepatitis A and B shot and a religious exemption was signed. In the police report, Parker’s wife, Susan Ellison Parker, said it was not her signature on the form and that her child did receive both vaccinations in 2012.

Sgt. Kant interviewed Cotman and discovered the nurse destroyed the original immunization document for Parker. Police obtained a search warrant and reviewed 26 student immunization forms. According to the affidavit, Cotman forged signatures on four documents.

Cotman’s attorney Ehrhardt said Cotman, who served as a school district employee since 1975 until she agreed to retire, said the record at issue did not result in any injury or financial gain.

Cotman declined to comment in court and refused an interview with the Clarion.

Hickman said tampering seemed to be more accurate charge as opposed to forgery, she said.

Ehrhardt said Cotman filled the school forms out after the childrens’ parents failed to do so in time. Otherwise, the school district says they have not been properly immunized.

“I would guess that 99.9 percent of all school district nurses in the state have done this,” he said. “The prosecution of this is stupid because it makes it more difficult for the school district to manage kids.”

Judge Ogg said the court would suspend imposition of sentence if Cotman pays her fine within 30 days and completes 80 hours of community service by August. She remains on probation for one year.

Ehrhardt said Cotman being forced to early retirement is consequence enough.

“It’s really unfortunate because the reality was she was trying to help people,” he said.

Reach Dan Balmer at daniel.balmer@peninsulaclarion.com.

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