Federal judge approves removal of DeKalb School Board members

Updated:

Gov. Nathan Deal decided to remove six DeKalb County School Board members.

ATLANTA - A federal judge denied an injunction filed by suspended members of the DeKalb County School Board who argued their removal from office was unconstitutional.

The ruling by U.S. District Judge Richard Story came down on Monday afternoon. On Friday, lawyers for school board members and the state attended a hearing before Story to determine if the governor could suspend six of the nine board members.

"There is considerable evidence that due process as required by the Fourteenth Amendment has been satisfied," Story wrote in his decision.

Story sent the case back to the Georgia Supreme Court to decide on the law, which is part of the state constitution.

A court spokesman told Channel 2's Richard Belcher the parties involved have ten days to agree on questions for the State Supreme Court. Once the court has agreed on the questions to answer, the case will be docketed and decided in two terms of the court, or about six months.

Either side could ask for an expedited hearing but the court is not obligated to grant the request.

DeKalb County School Board chairman Melvin Johnson said in a statement, "I respect the judge's opinion, and appreciate the judge providing an opinion in a timely manner, because time is of the essence." Johnson is one of three board members who will not lose his seat.

Gov. Nathan Deal announced the suspension of the board members last Monday, on the recommendation of the State Board of Education.

The six board members sued in state and federal court, challenging a law passed two years ago that allows the governor to replace board members.

Lawyers for the school board members argued they had a constitutional right to remain in office because they were elected by voters.

Story said no action could take place until after he heard arguments on Friday and reached a decision; his ruling allows the governor to proceed with finding new board members.

The suspended board members are Sarah Wood, Jay Cunningham, Nancy Jester, Eugene Walker, Pamela Speaks and Donna Edler. Three other board members were recently elected so the state ruled they should not be suspended.

The deadline to apply to be a replacement board member is March 6. Nominations can be submitted at the Governor's website.  A committee will name finalists, whom the governor must approve.

DeKalb County schools were placed on probation in December by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, leading into the state investigation of the school board. The accreditation agency's report cited fiscal mismanagement and inappropriate conduct among board members.