Lawsuit raises concerns about DeKalb Schools corruption

by: Erica Byfield Updated:

DEKALB COUNTY, Ga. - A lawsuit filed on Tuesday raises concerns about possible corruption within the DeKalb County School System.
 
The suit was filed by Julie Oinonen, an attorney representing a former Dunwoody High School graduation coach.  The complaint says the district was willing to give 12 people their jobs back if Oinonen withdrew an open records request for a copy of Superintendent Cheryl Atkinson's text messages.
 
The suit says, "DeKalb County School District's chief legal officer sent a message on behalf of the Superintendent at her instruction that she would be willing to offer (the) Plaintiff her job and the job of 11 others ... in exchange for Plaintiff being willing to withdraw her Georgia Open Records Act demand for the Superintendent's text messages."
 
Oinonen declined to comment about the lawsuit, but the suit indicated she requested the superintendent's text messages in August.
 
The suit goes on to say, "After receiving a tip that relevant evidence to her (Oinonen's client, Cynthia Gipson) Fair Dismissal Hearing defense could be found in the Superintendent's text messages."
 
State Sen. Emanuel Jones represents DeKalb County.  He told Channel 2’s Erica Byfield the explosive allegations concern him.
 
"I am concerned about that because now it kind of begs the question, ‘What are they hiding?’" he said.
 
Jones told Byfield if Atkinson used a district-issued cell phone to write the text messages, the information is public.
 
"We have certain laws in this state and no one is above the law," Jones said.

Channel 2 Action News has confirmed the DeKalb County School system hired former Attorney General Mike Bowers to represent Atkinson in regard to the open records request.
 
The suit alleges the district knowingly violated Georgia's Open Records Act by not releasing the superintendent's text messages. Oinonen indicated that she accepted the district’s offer to withdraw her open records request in exchange for 12 jobs, but the district later revoked the offer.
 
Jones believes taxpayers deserve answers.
 
"It seems as if information is being withheld, and that is my primary concern," he said.
 
A spokesperson for the district said DeKalb Schools does not comment on pending litigation.

Gipson's attorney, Julie Oinonen, sent a statement to Channel 2 Action News saying, "Our law firm was informed that the Superintendent did not want the text messages to go public and that as a result she was willing to offer Ms. Gipson and up to 11 of our clients their jobs back, not just for this year but also a guaranteed contract for next year as well in exchange for us withdrawing the open records demand for her text messages. We accepted in writing the offer that had been sent to us by the Chief Legal Officer of DeKalb County School District Senator Ronald Ramsey on the Superintendent's behalf."

"For the Superintendent's high priced law firm paid by the taxpayers to claim no text messages is absolutely preposterous. For the school district to have backtracked out of this agreement violates our RIF'd clients rights. We received a tip in August that relevant evidence was located in those text messages and over the past several months our law firm, Senator Emmanuel Jones and the news media have demanded these text messages. We call upon our leadership to stop this cover up and comply with Georgia law," the statement concluded.


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