Judge allows school officials' campaign activity

Fulton County Superior Court Judge Wendy Shoob shot down an attempt Wednesday to have Fulton County Schools remove information from its website that charter school supporters claim gives a negative impression of the charter schools constitutional amendment.

Atlanta attorney Glenn Delk, representing charter school parents and a Jackson County Republican Party official, had sought an injunction against Fulton County Schools and Gwinnett County Public Schools that would require the districts to replace what he described as anti-amendment information with a declaration of neutrality in the increasingly bitter charter amendment battle. Delk claimed that by posting the information, the districts had violated the state’s prohibition against using taxpayer resources to participate in a political campaign.

But after a 37-minute hearing, Shoob denied the request for an injunction against Fulton County Schools. Shoob also ruled that the request for an injunction against the Gwinnett County school system should be heard in that county.

The rulings threw sand in the pro-amendment machinery, but it is likely to grind on.

Victoria Sweeney, an attorney for the Gwinnett school district, said she expects the request for an injunction to be combined with another suit against the district that makes the same claims Delk made. An Oct. 24 hearing has been set in that case.

Opponents of the amendment, which would guarantee the state’s power to authorize charter schools and create a commission to consider applications for them, said legal attempts to restrict what school districts can say about it are part of a campaign to intimidate and mute them.

In 2010, Shoob had ruled in favor of the state of Georgia when it sought to protect the power of the former Georgia Charter Schools Commission to authorize charter schools. But from the outset of Wednesday’s hearing, Shoob was quizzical and at times outright skeptical of Delk’s argument that the districts could not post information about the amendment on their websites.

She asked Delk what he thought school board members were permitted to say.

“Are they allowed to answer questions from parents?” she asked.

Delk said school board members should say they would offer a full answer when they are not on taxpayer time, a response that seemed unsatisfactory to Shoob.

“They can take the time to respond, but they can’t answer the question?” Shoob asked.

Later, the judge said she did not agree with the contention that the information on the district websites amounted to advocacy.

“They didn’t say we are for or against it,” she said. “They just posted the Q-and-A. I have a hard time seeing how that was for or against it.”

“Obviously, I disagreed with her opinion that the Q-and-A was purely factual and not opinion,” Delk said after Shoob’s ruling.

Fulton County School Superintendent Robert Avossa said he was not surprised by the ruling. He said he and other district officials have done nothing wrong.

“As a school superintendent, I’ve said from the beginning that it’s my obligation, my responsibility and my right to keep people informed,” he said.

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