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Federal court orders DeKalb case sent to Ga. Supreme Court | Education

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Federal court orders DeKalb case sent to Ga. Supreme Court

DECATUR, Ga. -- A federal court judge ruled Monday afternoon that he does not have jurisdiction over the suit brought by members of the DeKalb County School Board.

They sued the state board of education and Gov. Nathan Deal over the removal of six school board members.

In a decision released Monday afternoon, US District Court Judge Richard Story said that since the claims by the DeKalb School Board members are tied to the Georgia state constitution, that the federal court does not hold jurisdiction in the case. Story directed the parties to submit their claims to the Supreme Court of Georgia.

MORE | Continuing coverage of DeKalb County school issues

As a result, Story said that the motion for preliminary injunction against removing six of the nine DeKalb school board members was denied and the temporary restraining order issued by the federal court is vacated.

"Having decided that issues raised in Plaintiffs' state law claims should be certified to the Supreme Court of Georgai, the Court directs the parties to confer in an effort to agree upon certified questions for submission to the Supreme Court of Georgia. 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," Story's ruling said in part.

Gov. Deal was pleased with the ruling. In a statement Monday evening, Deal said Robert Brown had accepted his request to serve as second liason to the DeKalb board during the search process. Deal named Brad Bryant as liason in a news conference last week.

"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. I agree with the judge's opinion that 'the harm from the loss of accreditation to the School District and the resulting harm to the students in the district are profound,'" Deal said. "Time is of the essence because we cannot have this cloud hang over the county or the state. The nominating panel appointed last week will continue to collect applications through Wednesday, and it will get to work quickly on filling the open seats so the board can become a functioning body.

"Given the gravity of this situation, I greatly appreciate Robert Brown accepting my request to serve as a liaison to the DeKalb board. He and Brad Bryant will make a great team to work with me, the DeKalb board and Superintendent Michael Thurmond to make sure that the system puts the students first."

But Monday night, former board chairman Dr. Eugene Walker said he plans to continue to fight his removal. Walker told 11Alive News: "I believe I'm on the right side of history." 

In an emailed statement, he said in part: "It it morally abhorrent to sit idly by and allow the usurping of the one man one vote rights that has [sic] been bought and paid with the blood, sweat and tears of my generation. I plan to continue to seek justice with the court system until this matter with the Governor is resolved."

Suspended board member Donna Edler would not comment on any future plans for the lawsuit, but told 11Alive News that she plans to petition the Governor to get her seat back.

DeKalb County School Board Chairman Melvin Johnson issued a statement late Monday afternoon.

"I respect the judge's opinion, and appreciate the judge providing an opinion in a timely manner, because time is of the essence. It is essential that we have a governing board capable of meeting the needs of our administration, students, parents and taxpayers. Equally important is having a board in place to work with the administration on ensuring that the district regains full accreditation. 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."

Members of the school board brought suit against the state board of education and Gov. Deal last week. The Dekalb board says the Georgia law that empowers Deal to remove members of the is unconstitutional. The 2011 law allows the removal of a school system's board when a school system's accreditation is threatened.

DeKalb was placed on probation last year by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, which called the board dysfunctional.

In court last week, the attorney for the school board members, former DeKalb County District Attorney Bob Wilson said that parents and children in DeKalb County would be harmed if the governor were allowed to remove the school board members. He said the board members were elected by the people, and that the state law allowing the governor to remove them was unconstitutional because a governor cannot simply remove elected board members and replace them with unelected, temporary appointees.

The attorney for the governor, Assistant State Attorney General Stefan Ritter, said parents and school children in DeKalb County would be harmed if the school board members were not replaced immediately by Deal.  Ritter said the the state constitution does empower the governor to remove them.