Superior Court Judge Kelly Lee ordered the School Board members to appear before her as part of her denial of their request for a temporary restraining order against the Georgia Board of Education.
On Feb, 19, school board attorney Bob Wilson filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the 2011 state law, SB 79, that allows Deal to remove board members and seeking to stop the Feb. 21 suspension hearing the state board was holding before making recommendations to the Deal.
That law also downsized the school board to seven members. Deal can now replace school board members on the recommendation of the state board.
In her Feb. 20 order, the judge denied the DeKalb School Board request because it did not comply with a five-day advance written notice requirement.
“However, it appears that plaintiffs have shown that immediate and irreparable harm may still occur to the plaintiffs after the proceedings have taken place,” the judge said before ordering them to appear on Feb. 28.
That hearing takes place in Courtroom 8B at 8:30 a.m. The state will have to argue against granting DeKalb an order that blocks the governor from removing the board.
The nine DeKalb board members learned of the judge’s action Tuesday afternoon while attending a governance training session at the Georgia School Board Association’s headquarters in Lawrenceville. They said the four-hour workshop is an attempt to remedy the governance issues raised in the SACS report.
District 3 School Board member Sarah Copelin-Wood said people think they are fighting to keep their jobs.
“That’s not it,” she said. “We’re fighting for the children. We’re fighting to save accreditation for kids who have been accepted by colleges and don’t need to have their educational plans disrupted.”
Jay Cunningham, who represents District 5, said he believes the workshop demonstrated a good-faith effort that will have a positive influence on the state board.
“At the end of the day, regardless of what happens, we’re moving forward,” he said. “We still have accreditation and that’s our No. 1 concern for the kids of DeKalb County. We’re continuing to do whatever needs to be done to maintain accreditation.”
Outgoing board Chairman Eugene Walker said he has not had a chance to discuss the judge’s ruling in detail with the board’s attorneys. He wouldn’t speculate on whether the training session will favorably influence the state board but said he believes the effort is creating a better DeKalb board.
“We’ve embraced totally the 11 required actions from the SACS report,” Walker said. “All we are doing is fighting to do the job we were elected to do. We’re prepared to tell our story to whoever will listen. Whatever the judge requires us to do, we’ll do.”
The lawsuit says SB 79 violates the Georgia Constitution because it authorizes the removal of elected local officials “without any individualized finding of misconduct.”
Reacting to news of the DeKalb suit Tuesday, Deal said that legal action may only prolong the problems in DeKalb.
“Litigation unfortunately only lengthens the time that DeKalb County is cast in a negative light,” Deal said in a statement to CrossRoadsNews. “We must keep our focus on the students in DeKalb schools and work every day to make sure that their diplomas mean something.”
Also on Feb. 19, some top county leaders met to discuss the fate of the beleaguered school district. The stakeholders held a 90-minute closed-door conference at Georgia Piedmont Technical College in Clarkston.
Those in attendance included state Sen. Jason Carter, state Rep. Michele Henson and DeKalb Chamber of Commerce President Leonardo McClarty.
Afterward, CEO Burrell Ellis said he called the meeting to hear directly from the School Board about issues the district is facing. Besides the status of the board, the most pressing issue is the district’s probation.
In a Dec. 17 report, the accrediting agency, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, gave DeKalb a long list of problems it must fix before the probationary status can be re-evaluated at the end of 2013.
Ellis said their conversation centered on supporting the district and having an ongoing conversation in a collaborative way. He said they agreed to meet again in two weeks and work on a statement of collaboration.