A Fulton County Superior Court judge ruled today that Fulton County Schools can provide information on the charter school amendment on its web site. Attorney and longtime vouchers advocate Glenn Delk maintained that the Fulton County district’s Q&A amounted to lobbying against the amendment.
But Judge Wendy Shoob disagreed, calling the Q&A simply informational.
School districts are bristling at what they consider efforts to silence them on the controversial amendment, which would give the state the power to overrule local districts and approve charter schools that local boards opposed.
“In providing information to the public regarding Amendment 1, I have done nothing wrong or improper,” said Gwinnett school chief J. Alvin Wilbanks, whose district is facing the same legal challenge.
“These lawsuits are simply another attempt to bully, intimidate, and silence the citizens and public servants who are trying to clarify the amendment in order to counter the misleading language of the preamble and the ballot question itself. This is not a partisan issue. Educating voters on Amendment 1 is so important that people from all political parties are collaborating to ensure voters have full and accurate information about it,” said Wilbanks. “That said I fully understand and abide by what legally I can and cannot do regarding the use of public funds in this effort. I also know that as an American citizen I have freedom of speech rights that are protected by the United States Constitution. I fully intend to continue exercising those rights, regardless of the tactics employed to try to keep me quiet.”
But after a 37-minute hearing, Shoob denied the request for an injunction against Fulton County Schools. Shoob also ruled that the request for an injunction against the Gwinnett County school system should be heard in that county. The rulings threw sand in the pro-amendment machinery, but it is likely to grind on.
Victoria Sweeney, an attorney for the Gwinnett school district, said she expects the request for an injunction to be combined with another suit against the district that makes the same claims Delk made. An Oct. 24 hearing has been set in that case.
Opponents of the amendment, which would guarantee the state’s power to authorize charter schools and create a commission to consider applications for them, said legal attempts to restrict what school districts can say about it are part of a campaign to intimidate and mute them.
In 2010, Shoob had ruled in favor of the state of Georgia when it sought to protect the power of the former Georgia Charter Schools Commission to authorize charter schools. But from the outset of Wednesday’s hearing, Shoob was quizzical and at times outright skeptical of Delk’s argument that the districts could not post information about the amendment on their websites.
She asked Delk what he thought school board members were permitted to say. “Are they allowed to answer questions from parents?” she asked.
Delk said school board members should say they would offer a full answer when they are not on taxpayer time, a response that seemed unsatisfactory to Shoob. “They can take the time to respond, but they can’t answer the question?” Shoob asked.
Later, the judge said she did not agree with the contention that the information on the district websites amounted to advocacy. “They didn’t say we are for or against it,” she said. “They just posted the Q-and-A. I have a hard time seeing how that was for or against it.”
–from Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog