Georgia Supreme Court to consider lawsuit by suspended DeKalb school board

The school governance controversy in DeKalb County has moved to Georgia’s highest court, where justices could take up to half a year to consider whether the displacement of six school board members was unconstitutional.

Last week, Gov. Nathan Deal named six new members for the DeKalb school board, after suspending six who were in office last year when the system’s accreditation dropped precipitously.

The suspended board members sued in federal court, and last week the judge asked the Georgia Supreme Court to consider the constitutionality of the 2011 law authorizing Deal’s action. On Monday, the state’s high court docketed the case.

The justices will consider two questions: Does the state’s new law violate a constitutional “doctrine” that school systems be controlled by elected school boards, and did the General Assembly extend unconstitutional powers to the governor?

A ruling against Deal and the law could result in restoration of the suspended members. A ruling against the board would end their claim to office, assuming Deal does not put them back on the board voluntarily. The law allows the suspended members to petition the governor for reinstatement, a process that takes several months.

The suspended members sued before the governor suspended them, authorizing an attorney to bill the system $250 an hour. They asked U.S. District Judge Richard Story to stop Deal from acting while the case wound through the courts, but the judge declined.

The state’s high court has up to two terms — about six months — to make a decision, based either on a hearing or written legal briefs, a spokeswoman said.

DeKalb and the only named plaintiff, former school board Chairman Eugene Walker, have 20 days to file their brief, while defendants Deal and the Georgia Board of Education have 40 days.

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