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DeKalb School Board Spat Heads to State Justices

ATLANTA (CN) - The same federal judge who refused to stop the governor of Georgia from replacing school board members wants the state Supreme Court to intervene.

Earlier this month U.S. District Judge Richard Story vacated a restraining order that was stopping Gov. Nathan Deal from replacing six members of the DeKalb County Board of Education.

The board, which oversees the third largest school district in the Georgia, has been beset in recent years with financial and ethical violations. DeKalb has been on probation with its accrediting institution since 2012, two years after the racketeering indictments served against then-superintendent Crawford Lewis and then-CEO Pat Pope.

Deal claimed that he could suspend members of the board under Section 20-2-73 of the state code, even though those individuals were voted into office.

After concluding that the board did not have a case for due-process violations, Story asked the state's high court on Friday to weigh in on constitutional and state questions arising from the board's federal complaint.

"Each of the plaintiffs seeks injunctive relief based on challenges to the School Board Suspension Statute as violative of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution and the Georgia Constitution," he wrote.

The two questions Story certified to the state's highest court concern whether the state's new law violates the constitutional right - "doctrine" - of elected school boards to govern school systems, and whether the power given to Deal to override elected school boards by the statute is also unconstitutional.

"Does O.C.G.A. 20-2-73 violate the Georgia Constitutional Doctrine that each school system shall be under the management and control of a board of education, the members of which shall be elected as provided by law?," the order asks.

It also says, "Does the potential removal of school board members, as provided for by O.C.G.A. 20-2-73, exceed the General Assembly's Authority to enact general laws regarding local boards of education under Article VIII, Section V?"

Story further charges the high court to sort out the legal issues in this suit at the state level, first, as it is the most crucial.

"The Georgia Supreme Court has not addressed any of the issues raised by plaintiffs," he wrote. "Based on the court's conclusions regarding plaintiffs' Fourteenth Amendment claims, a decision on the state law issues will be determinative of the case. A decision on these issues will have a significant impact on the public education system in Georgia."

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