The 17-page ruling shows judge worried more about harm to students than to school board members

Here are key passages in Judge Story’s 17-page ruling, which does call for questions about the state law authorizing the removal of school board members to go to the state Supreme Court.

But, in the meantime, the judge allows the suspensions to stand and replacements to be named.

From the ruling:

The School District has no interest in any particular person serving on the school board. Rather, the interest of the School District is that a duly constituted board be in place so that it can conduct business. The School Board Suspension Statute assures continuity of operations through appointments by the Governor to fill vacancies created by the suspensions. Thus, the loss of any property interest by the School District is not apparent to the Court. In the absence of a showing of loss of a property interest, the School District would lack a key element in its Fourteenth Amendment claim.

Based on the foregoing, the Court concludes that the School District has failed to show a substantial likelihood of success on the merits of its Fourteenth Amendment claim.

Dr. Walker’s claim:

The Court finds that the SACS report provided the Board Members adequate notice. The report contains specific allegations of conduct that violate applicable standards and policies. Though more specificity could have been provided, an “ordinary person exercising ordinary common sense can sufficiently understand” the allegations. The Court further finds that the hearing before the SBOE met the basic requirements of pre-termination due process.

Moreover, the Statute provides additional process before a termination can take place. If a Member petitions for reinstatement, subsection (c) provides for another hearing (conducted in compliance with the Georgia Administrative Procedure Act) and judicial review. Thus, there is considerable evidence that due process as required by the Fourteenth Amendment has been satisfied. Based on the foregoing, the Court finds that Dr. Walker has failed to show a substantial likelihood of success on his Fourteenth Amendment claim.

In this case, the Court finds that comity requires that the state law issues raised by Plaintiffs be decided by the courts of the State of Georgia. Having reached this conclusion, the Court is faced with two alternative means of obtaining that result. The Court may simply abstain from deciding the issue and leave it to Plaintiffs to pursue their claims in the State judicial system. Alternatively, the Court can certify the issues to the Georgia Supreme Court for decision.

Rather than having to wait on a newly-filed state action to work its way through to appeal, this Court can promptly certify questions to the Supreme Court. Believing that time is of the essence, the Court chooses to proceed by certifying questions to the Georgia Supreme Court. This approach will assure that a State court decides these issues that are so directly related to state institutions and state functions and will further assure that a decision is made as expeditiously as possible.

Therefore, the parties are directed to confer in an effort to agree upon certified questions for submission to the Georgia Supreme Court. If the parties are unable to agree within 10 days of the entry of this Order, each party shall submit proposed certified questions to the Court.

C. Injunctive Relief
Neither Plaintiff has satisfied the requirements for a preliminary injunction based on the Fourteenth Amendment claims. The question of injunctive relief on the state claims is a closer question. Until the Georgia Supreme Court rules on the certified questions, the likelihood of success on the merits of Plaintiffs’ state law claims is uncertain. While Plaintiffs make persuasive arguments challenging the School Board Suspension Statute, the  suggestion in Roberts v. Deal, 723 S.E.2d 901, 903 (Ga. 2012) that the General Assembly is “presumably” authorized “to establish a mechanism for the administrative removal of board members” weighs against their position.

Assuming Plaintiffs could show a substantial likelihood of success on the merits, the Court finds that consideration of the harms at stake does not favor issuance of a preliminary injunction. At this time, the harm to Plaintiffs is their temporary inability to perform the duties of the office to which they were elected.

Because they are presently suspended with pay, they are suffering no monetary loss. Of course, if they are permanently removed as authorized by the Statute, they will suffer the loss of their positions and the compensation therefor. The latter consequences can only occur after they have been afforded the process provided by the Statute. In the event Plaintiffs ultimately prevail in the case, they will be reinstated to their positions and will receive compensation to which they are entitled. Thus, if they ultimately prevail, they will have only suffered they will have only suffered the loss of the opportunity to serve in their elected office for a limited period of time.

The most significant competing interest to that of Plaintiffs is the interest of the public. Though the public has an interest in its elected officials being allowed to serve in the offices to which they were elected, there is an even greater public interest at stake here. The interest of the public in a healthy public school system outweighs the interests of board members in serving in their positions. Though Plaintiffs have refuted some SACS’ allegations which served as part of the basis for the recommendation of the SBOE that they be suspended, there was sufficient evidence to convince SACS and the SBOE that actions of the Board were in violation of applicable standards and policies.

In fact, the violations were so egregious that the School District was placed on “Accredited Probation,” the level of accreditation immediately preceding loss of accreditation. The harm from the loss of accreditation to the School District and the resulting harm to the students in the district are profound.

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. Should Plaintiffs prevail, the Board Members can more nearly be made whole than can the students if the return of the members results in loss of accreditation.

–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

55 comments Add your comment

Faye

March 4th, 2013
4:59 pm

HALLELUJAH !

Dunwoody Mom

March 4th, 2013
5:04 pm

FINALLY, sad it took a Federal Judge to remember it’s “about the students”.

DunMoody

March 4th, 2013
5:07 pm

I read the ruling … interesting how far off so many “pundits” have been about these findings. Hopefully we’ll have a BOE in place this week to work towards improving our status to “fully accredited.” Doesn’t fix things, but it’s a pretty good band-aid for now.

Employee still Waiting for Recompense

March 4th, 2013
5:12 pm

HALLELUJAH ! PRAISE THE LORD! THANK-YOU JESUS! Maybe our kids can get the educational help that they are entitled to. God is soooo good and HE DOES ANSWER PRAYER!

Citizen Dave

March 4th, 2013
5:12 pm

Walker’s last chance to bow out gracefully.

Mr. McNulty

March 4th, 2013
5:17 pm

Students must always come first!
…and if we want our students to compete in the Global Economy – keep the German programs in the schools: http://www.deutschermichel.com/articles/article-02i01e.htm
:)

bu2

March 4th, 2013
5:20 pm

He didn’t really decide anything other than severely questioning whether there was a property right to the office (logical since they are still being paid). The issues will still be up to the Georgia Supreme Court. He merely said the risk of harm from stopping Deal was greater than the risk of harm from stopping the board members from serving.

Its going to be a while before there is a new board. I think the deadline for submissions was March 7. Then they have to sort through them. The former members can petition for being returned for 30 days.

quiet no more

March 4th, 2013
5:20 pm

Thank you Judge Story and thank you Governor Deal. There is now hope. Now, let’s all move forward and help these kids, teachers, families and community get life back on track and perhaps even come out with a new and improved DeKalb School System!

Mr. Jesse McNulty

March 4th, 2013
5:23 pm

Students must always come first!
…and if we want our students to compete in the Global Economy – keep the German programs in the schools: http://www.deutschermichel.com/articles/article-02i01e.htm
:)

dekalbite

March 4th, 2013
5:28 pm

“The interest of the public in a healthy public school system outweighs the interests of board members in serving in their positions.

So the constitutional right of students in Georgia to receive an “adequate education” was considered in this case.

Mr. Georgia

March 4th, 2013
5:28 pm

Dr. Walker should fight on, all the way to the Supreme Court and bring this gross injustice to light!! Gov. Deal should have never removed the board members, that is what recall and elections are for!! This process is flawed and stinks of racial discrimination, the citizens of Dekalb should be marching on the Gold Dome around the clock!! Maureen you paper should, no MUST do an extensive investigation into SACS!! As journalist it is only fair and just!! SACS have trumphed up charges and accusations based on unamed sources, did not take notes (by their own admission) and has no oversight for thier actions that has resulted in the will of the people (voters) being unfairly overturned.

support public schools

March 4th, 2013
5:31 pm

Mr. Georgia- what happned to the gross injustice to the 99,000 students?!

Centrist

March 4th, 2013
5:33 pm

Ms. Downey blogged this on March 2nd: “Story said he will decide this case on the legal merits of the law rather than on the accusations against the DeKalb school board by its accrediting agency, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.”

The judge did so: “While Plaintiffs make persuasive arguments challenging the School Board Suspension Statute, the suggestion in Roberts v. Deal, 723 S.E.2d 901, 903 (Ga. 2012) that the General Assembly is ‘presumably’ authorized ‘to establish a mechanism for the administrative removal of board members’ weighs against their position.”

Ms Downey and the AJC only highlighted the plaintiffs case while purposely ignoring the State’s side in their publications because of their bias.

Dunwoody Mom

March 4th, 2013
5:33 pm

So the constitutional right of students in Georgia to receive an “adequate education” was considered in this case

So many people overlooked this or just ignored as it did not “fit” their argument.

USMC

March 4th, 2013
5:35 pm

“Mr. Georgia” sounds like he is from DEEtroit! Use your brain, sir. The only thing that “stinks of racial discrimination” is your upper lip! :-)

Georgia

March 4th, 2013
5:36 pm

The judge: egregious! (still laughing) That word egregious is such a beach slap. I only read the report and my face turned red. and there’s this blister on my lip now…….

Aquagirl

March 4th, 2013
5:36 pm

Maureen you paper should, no MUST do an extensive investigation into SACS!! As journalist it is only fair and just!!

Good luck with your outraged one-man mob, buddy.

Blame Barns

March 4th, 2013
5:37 pm

This is great news for the People of Dekalb County. Maybe you might want to start thinking about having county wide elections instead of district voting. That way every person in the county will have a say on all board members and every board member will be answerable to every voter. Good Luck.
I am sure Dr. Trotter will be on here soon to say the Federal Judge is wrong and should be impeached. He will bring his MACE with him to stomp on anyone who disagrees with him.

Dave

March 4th, 2013
5:41 pm

What he has said is that there is a remedy for the board members, damages, if they were wronged. This changes the game. The state can move forward with the cost being some salaries over a period of time, less than Baker and Wilson’s salary/retainer. I don’t know that the statute was fair but this lets the school system move forward for whatever good that is going to do us.

DeKalb Dad

March 4th, 2013
5:41 pm

I am glad to see someone in the mix of this mess has the interest of the children in mind. Obviously the suspended board members only care about wasting more county money on lawyers and lawsuits than using that “tax” money on educating our kids. Thank you Judge Story. Send these selfish and self-center folks on their way and out of the taxpayers hair.

Innocent Bystander

March 4th, 2013
5:42 pm

The will of the people (voters)….they bought hook, line and sinker that these idiots could run a multiple million dollar “company” and obviously they can not. In any other world outside of politics, when the company…DeKalb School System, has a flawed Board of Directors and the product output is lacking anything resembling a well educated and motivated student….it’s time that someone step in to put the company back on course.
I remember Mr Walker from the good days when he was nothing more than a rabble rousing resident on Glenwood Road east of Candler that was constantly attempting to rezone residential property into a non-comforming use. A few bogus and unconfirmed “degrees” and his personna is hyped into someone of character.
Someone of character would never have allowed his school system to sink to the lows that it is today along with the criminals that worked within the system during his time on the Board.

I think people should march on the Capital and yell “THANK YOU FOR GETTING RID OF THE LOSERS…” so DeKalb can attempt to heal itself after the rest of the corruption is put out of office.

Timothy

March 4th, 2013
5:44 pm

It only took 11 posts before someone played the race card. How sad. Why not think of the students as people instead of black people or white people or brown people?

Native Atlantan

March 4th, 2013
5:44 pm

Mr. Georgia is totally lost. The students win here, which is all that matters. Mr. Walker has had years to address the issues with Dekalb County Education and to what end — potential loss of accreditation. And don’t even attempt the race card here — Dekalb County is a majority minority county so the race card doens’t fly. Think about the students for a change……it’s really simple.

teach one

March 4th, 2013
5:46 pm

Lets get a new board in quick, so that they can rid the palace of dead weight, and before the old board can save their friends and family.

mc chris

March 4th, 2013
5:50 pm

Maureen or anyone else,
Will the school system continue to pay for legal expenses as this fight moves on to the Georgia Supreme Court? The fact the governor can now appoint replacements means the replacements may decide to stop paying legal expenses for the suspended members, right? Thanks in advance for the clarification.

abacus2

March 4th, 2013
5:54 pm

Okay, now can we get something done about Fayette County? No one has explained why the departed Dr. Bearden received a full year’s pay as hush money and the school board has a self-imposed gag order. No was had adequately explained why we’re 15 mil in the hole either. It isn’t all because of decreased tax revenue. This Fayette County taxpayer is NOT pleased.

bu2

March 4th, 2013
5:54 pm

@teach one
“Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss. We won’t be fooled again.” “You say you got a real solution. Well you know, we’d all love to see the plan.”

I’ll believe we have 6 new appointees that are more interested in the students than in business and jobs for adults when I see it. The much congratulated Gwinnett district is being sued for sending school money to the Chamber of Commerce. They’ve also been buying school land at inflated prices. So, we’ll see.

abacus2

March 4th, 2013
5:56 pm

Should be “no one has adequately”. Can’t spell when I’m mad. Maureen, please ask some very public questions.

Who stands for the children?

March 4th, 2013
5:59 pm

Actually, Mr. Georgia, if an investigation is to be had, suggest we start with REALLY digging deeper into flaws (well, maybe a little bit of malfeasance) brought on by this Board; the nepotism, which we are given to understand by substantiated reports, that is rampant; the budget, the waste of taxpayer money on legal fees, the meddling in schools, the need to look into the central office (if they want to squander money, take a look at how many positions are really justified, when in fact that money could be used in the classrooms), and so on and so on. Those little annoyances haven’t even touched on the acts committed that were serious enough to land them where they are now. And, please —the race card. That card has been played so many times until it’s a bit worn. In this case it simply is not going to work. These people brought this down on themselves; the ruling has been handed down by the Court where they themselves took it. So, do they think we are to continue footing their legal bills. If they wish to pay their own fees, let them fight it all the way to Washington. If not, time to let it go and move on.

Boss Hog

March 4th, 2013
6:00 pm

Sounds like DeKalb has some embarrassing duds serving in the GA Legislature as well. The slow evolution of moving away from the race card crutch for most ills and embarrassing circumstances is understandable because of human pride and the humility that owning up to such embarrassments….but it really goes to show how engrained that crutch really is when you see a situation like this with so many black kids being the losers in the mindless struggle of the intellectually impaired DeKalb BOE members. Pitiful.

Doris M

March 4th, 2013
6:01 pm

Do I hear APPEAL to the Supreme Court?!

DunMoody

March 4th, 2013
6:05 pm

I do wonder if Mr. Wilson regrets cancelling his case in Georgia State Court in favor of a Federal hearing. Hindsight …glad he opted for Federal in this case.

Blame Barns

March 4th, 2013
6:10 pm

abacus2

The board members -2 that were involved with that mess have since been voted out. The new board has been left with this mess of their predecessors making. When the money was flowing the old board spent millions on new building that never were used and property that never was needed. When the faucet was turned off by Purdue and the Federal Government we the citizens were left holding the bill. It is not going to get fixed overnight, and I do not envy the new boards decisions that will have to be made to get us out of that stink the old board made for us.

mountain man

March 4th, 2013
6:20 pm

I think Mr. Georgia is Walker’s son-in-law.

Kris

March 4th, 2013
6:48 pm

Good riddance to the ousted ex-board &*&^^ (insert favoreite wording). Now cut their pay and and send a Bill for legal, court costs.Now Deal should resign on the same reason he ouster the board.
Shady crooked misdeals , lack of ETHICS.

Private Citizen

March 4th, 2013
6:59 pm

One likely result of formerly non-involved persons being placed on “school board” is that it will open the door and put sunlight onto various processes likely formerly unknown to both the public and the greater governing powers. It’s like opening the barn doors to a big closed up operation. Startling.

DeKalb Dad

March 4th, 2013
7:01 pm

Why is the race card being played? Most of the students in DeKalb that have and are being hurt by this bunch are of color too. Do they not deserve to get a decent education because of their color or the color of the school board members? Wow, I though we were supposed to be past all this in 2013.

Lee

March 4th, 2013
7:17 pm

Much ado about nothing. This ruling merely punts the ball to the Ga Supreme Court in the event that the ousted board members choose to pursue it. It was really the only decision Story could have rendered that didn’t create a worse mess.

Disappointed DeKalbite

March 4th, 2013
7:34 pm

Maureen, Thank you for your accurate reporting. I watched 2 local news shows at 6 PM and neither of them reported the ruling accurately. Also, I have a question about Judge Story’s statement that “…Though Plaintiffs have refuted some SACS allegations…” Is he saying they refuted them at the state board hearing or in his courtroom. I was not present at either hearing, but it was my understanding that, although Plaintiffs (or their attorneys) said that , for instance, the textbook money had been found and al lwas accounted for, their was no evidence presented to that effect, just statements. Is that what Judge Story is talking about? Or was some evidence actually produced to refute any of SACS allegations, at either hearing? Please clarify.

living in an outdated ed system

March 4th, 2013
7:48 pm

Unfortunately, this is NOT over yet. While I agree that this blog has, to a certain degree, shown a bias in support of the Plaintiffs, we should be mindful that the press has impulsively misled the public on what has transpired today. Yes, the governor can suspend and replace the board members, but in the interim, he has fast-tracked this case to the GA Supreme Court. So if the plaintiffs stay united and decide to appeal, then we are still in “limbo.”

And I am not only disgusted with Walker playing the “race” card, but also the fact that a local broadcast network reported that Walker was the only holdout that prevented a settlement with the Governor from coming to fruition on Friday.

Maureen Downey

March 4th, 2013
7:59 pm

@Dekalbite, The hearing did not produce any new evidence, but Wilson mentioned several times in his arguments before Judge Story that DeKalb officials disproved the missing textbook money and the lack of Internet. I think Story is referring to those two issues. Also, Story had the transcript of the 14-hour state board hearing, and I assume he read it as he noted that he read information Wilson sent him from 4 in the afternoon until midnight.
Maureen

Truth Today

March 4th, 2013
8:08 pm

Let’s remove many of the state legislature since they harm children by not adequately funding education. Let’s remove all elected officials for any non-criminal reason as long as we believe it to be in the best interest of the children. Democracy is on a slippery slope with the removal of elected officials who have not been found guilty of a crime. Let’s see how much support the legislature will give the Governor if he decides to remove them for spurious reasons.

Chamblee Dad

March 4th, 2013
8:40 pm

@Lee I agree on your word “punt” if read closely, he did essentially punt, if Walker & Co. decide to fight on = then certified questions can be sent to the Ga. Supreme Court. But for now he did refuse to stop the process. But it can derailed in Ga. Supreme Court.

On 2nd thought, instead of punting he sorta lateraled.

Chamblee Dad

March 4th, 2013
8:51 pm

@ private let’s hope that the door really opens & some worthwhile people actually get in with enough time to succeed.

I mentally picture the SWAT team battering down the door, and running over Walker as he tries to keep them out. Walker – he’s drunk with no shirt on, raving like he’s on “Cops.” Then they cuff him & bend his head over so he won’t hit it as they put him in the back seat of the cop car & speed away, blue lights on. Left on the sidewalk is the crying girlfriend (SCW), some random dude yelling at them as they pull away (Cunningham), and a confused neighbor who looks like all the racket just woke her up (Edler).

What a nice visual image. Not sure where Jester, Speaks fit into it though.

Chamblee Dad

March 4th, 2013
8:53 pm

@ bu2 I posted that exact song lyric on here when Atkinson left & Thurmond was hired.

Maureen Downey

March 4th, 2013
8:54 pm

gsmith

March 4th, 2013
10:35 pm

if the ousted board members decided to run again they would get reelected by the same idiots who voted them in. the problem is not the board but the idiot voters of south dekalb. they could care less if someone is qualified or a crook as long as the candidate is black he or she will get their vote.. im sure the people of south dekalb could care less what i think and it is there right to vote for whom ever they want and if they want to vote for someone because they are black then they have every right to do so…… the flip side to this is that Dekalb is losing its best citizens and wealthiest people every day. they are moving to north fulton, sandy springs and cumming or out of state , and what do you have left ???? ANOTHER CLAYTON COUNTY !!! horrible neighborhoods , failing schools and business leaving…. so go ahead and vote for incompetent leaders and self destruct , because you will be the only one left in this cespool. with the tax base gone and all the money out of the county there will be no money left for your schools or your precious government programs

Mandella1099

March 4th, 2013
10:51 pm

@ Chamblee Dad

As the police car pulled away, Ms. Jester would be saying, “What’s up with that!”

Dekalbite@gsmith

March 4th, 2013
10:54 pm

“if the ousted board members decided to run again they would get reelected by the same idiots who voted them in. the problem is not the board but the idiot voters of south dekalb.”

Well. You would be wrong there since the Fernbank community put Walker over the top. Very expensive and probably the highest educational level of Atlanta. Fernbank serves the Emory and CDC community. Coincidentally, they did not get redistricted even as they were slated to do so, and they are getting a brand new school $19,000,000 – at the top of the SPLOST list. One of the new BOE members Marshall Orson came from that community. Mr. Orson brought Mr. Thurmond on board. Mr. Thurmond is the new superintendent that fought so hard to keep Walker and the rest of the BOE from being suspended. And you thought it was about South DeKalb. Maybe you need to take a look at the political players and voting records before you make those statements.

bu2

March 4th, 2013
11:15 pm

Channel 2 covered a party in Dunwoody celebrating the judges ruling and talked to a Dunwoody state rep. That was a little one sided.

Celebration was a little premature. Unfortunately, its not over yet.