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Gov. Deal's Ouster of School Board Members Upheld by Ga. Supreme Court

Cross-posted from The School Law Blog

By Mark Walsh

A Georgia law recently used by the governor to remove six members of a local school board is constitutional, the state's highest court has ruled.

The Georgia Supreme Court said that the 2010 removal statute was compatible with the state constitution's language that school systems be under the management and control of an elected board of education.

Late last year, the Southern Association of Schools and Colleges, a private accrediting agency, put the 99,000-student DeKalb County school district on probation over issues of governance by the district's school board. 

That led the Georgia state board of education to hold hearings and recommend that six of DeKalb County's nine board members be suspended. In February, Gov. Nathan Deal, a Republican, suspended the six members and named replacements.

Eugene P. Walker, one of the suspended board members, sued the state in federal district court, alleging violations of federal and state constitutional rights.

U.S. District Judge Richard W. Story of Atlanta denied preliminary relief on Walker's federal claims, ruling that he failed to show a substantial likelihood that he would prevail. On Walker's state constitutional claims, however, the judge certified several questions to the Georgia Supreme Court about its interpretation of whether the removal statute complied with the state constitution.

In a lengthy Nov. 25 opinion in DeKalb County School District v. Georgia State Board of Education, the state high court ruled unanimously to uphold the 2010 removal law.

Walker claimed the removal statute was unconstitutional, among other reasons, because it delegates power to suspend and remove members of a local school board in the hands of a private accrediting agency, and that it gives the governor too much power over local school systems.

"The [state] constitution makes public education not only the business of local jurisdictions, but also the state as a whole," the state Supreme Court decision says. "Although school systems are committed to the management and control of local boards of education, the state has a substantial interest in ensuring that those local boards function competently and in a manner that does not imperil the education or future prospects of the students enrolled in the school systems."

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