New class-action lawsuit: Opportunity School District ballot question misleading, deceptive

A class-action lawsuit filed today goes after Gov. Nathan Deal, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and Secretary of State Brian Kemp over the language in the Amendment 1 “Opportunity School District” ballot question.

The three lead plaintiffs --  Atlanta parent Kimberly Brooks, Rev. Timothy McDonald and public school teacher Melissa Ladd -- charge the language is “so misleading and deceptive that it violates the due process and voting rights of all Georgia voters.”

Proponents of state takeover called the lawsuit a stunt. "This is a last-minute media stunt engineered by outside special interest groups in order to generate publicity," said Tom Willis, director of the Opportunity for All Georgia Students coalition. "This frivolous lawsuit demonstrates the depths to which some outside groups will go to defend the status quo. They are playing political games with the futures of 68,000 students trapped in failing schools. It's unconscionable to hold these students hostage simply to generate news headlines."

Among the contentions in the suit:

First, the language states that the constitutional amendment “increase[es] community involvement” when it does the opposite. Second, the language claims that impacted schools will be “fixed,” when there is no research, data or evidence that state takeovers of local public schools yields any better outcomes. Third, the language describes the targeted schools as “failing” while many of them have made as much or more progress on state school assessments as traditionally high performing schools. Accordingly, the ballot language by which the Proposed Amendment will be presented to the Georgia electorate deprives voters of their due process right to an effective vote in violation of the Georgia Constitution.

All Georgia voters are entitled to have only those proposed amendments that comply with the Constitution presented on the ballot and also to have such amendments presented in a manner that complies with the Constitution. Accordingly, this lawsuit addresses matters that both directly affect them as voters and that also affect purely public rights, common to all voters in this state, and seeks to enforce the performance of a purely public duty, i.e., to have the Secretary of State place on the ballot only language regarding those proposed amendments that complies with the requirements of the Georgia Constitution. Plaintiffs thus seek to have this Court enter judgment declaring that the Proposed Amendment violates the Georgia Constitution and the ballot language regarding the amendment is so misleading and deceptive that it violates the due process and voting rights of all Georgia voters and enjoining enforcement if passed.

Here is the press release on the suit:

Today, a class action lawsuit alleging that the Amendment 1 “Opportunity School District” ballot language violates the Georgia Constitution was filed in Fulton County Superior Court against Gov. Nathan Deal, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and Sec. of State Brian Kemp.

The complaint, filed on behalf of all Georgia voters, charges that the school takeover amendment language “is misleading, subjectively worded and propagandizes the very issue being decided on the ballot.”

The three lead plaintiffs in the lawsuit are outspoken about their reasons for filing suit.

“You have to ask, ‘opportunity for whom?’ If you read the fine print, you’ll see this is an opportunity for the state to take our voices away,” said Kimberly Brooks of Atlanta, a parent of three children who have attended metro Atlanta schools in a district affected by the proposed Amendment.

Rev. Timothy McDonald, III, Senior Pastor at First Iconium Baptist Church in Atlanta, added, “We as parents and teachers and neighbors know what’s best for our communities, not some unaccountable political appointee.”

“Public schools that serve all children in the surrounding community are the foundation of democracy. Taking away local control and silencing parents' voices is contradictory to democratic principles,” said Dr. Melissa Ladd of Coweta County, a public school teacher and lifelong political conservative who recently became the first Georgia teacher to be named a finalist for the Horace Mann Teaching Award.

The plaintiffs argue that the ballot language is intentionally deceptive -- Amendment 1 will not “increase community involvement,” it will not “fix” failing schools and the Amendment will not provide “greater flexibility” compared to current public school models. The “fatally flawed” wording would therefore deprive Georgia voters of their due process right to an effective vote as guaranteed by the Georgia Constitution.

The lawsuit comes after many Georgia parents, teachers and other members of the Keep Georgia Schools Local Coalition have publicly criticized the ballot language. Georgia PTA president Lisa-Marie Haygood told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “the preamble, and indeed, the entire amendment question, is intentionally misleading and disguises the true intentions of the OSD legislation.”

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About the Author

Maureen Downey
Maureen Downey
Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.