After the DeKalb County school district was placed on probation by an accrediting agency, Republican Gov. Nathan Deal last week signed an order suspending six of the district’s nine members and appointed a panel to find replacements. The district and the former school board chairman filed suit challenging the constitutionality of the law that allows the governor to remove local school board members.
U.S. District Judge Richard Story’s order denied a request by the school district and the former board chairman for a preliminary injunction, which would have blocked the board members’ removal while the legal challenge played out.
“The harm from the loss of accreditation to the School District and the resulting harm to the students in the district are profound,” Story wrote. “To permit the Board Members to continue to serve while their individual claims are resolved risks substantial consequences for the School District and its students. The Court finds that this risk of harm far outweighs the risks to the Board Members.”
Story also said he plans to refer questions about the law to the Georgia Supreme Court because it hasn’t addressed any of the issues raised in the lawsuit, and a “decision on these issues could have a significant impact on the public education system in Georgia.”
In his order, Story also directs the two sides to work together to come up with questions to submit to the high court. If the two sides can’t agree on questions within 10 days, each side is to submit its own questions.
“The court’s decision today will allow us to take the next steps toward protecting the futures of DeKalb’s students and maintaining the school system’s accreditation,” Deal said in a statement.
“Time is of the essence because we cannot have this cloud hang over the county or the state,” he added.
Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens also applauded Story’s decision.
“Judge Story correctly recognized that the students in the DeKalb school system must come first,” Olens said in a statement. “I appreciate Judge Story’s careful thought, hard work, and swift decision in this time-sensitive matter.”
New board chairman Melvin Johnson said in a statement that he respects Story’s decision and stressed the importance of having a board in place.
“I pledge my full and complete cooperation with the panel of citizens Gov. Nathan Deal has identified to select new board members, and I trust they will work expeditiously to ensure we have a governing board capable of addressing the pressing needs of our school system,” Johnson said.
When reached by phone Monday, former board chairman Eugene Walker said he didn’t have a comment.
Bob Wilson, a lawyer for the school district and for Walker, did not immediately return an email and a phone message seeking comment.
Story’s order Monday follows a Friday hearing in which he heard arguments from lawyers for both sides.
Lawyers for the school district argued at the hearing that the state Legislature overreached when it gave the governor the power to remove elected officials and said their removal represented a serious lack of due process.