Court: Too early to decide if school district expands with Atlanta

When the school year starts again, it’s not clear whether some new Atlanta residents will be at their old Fulton County schools or starting new ones in Atlanta.

The city had asked the courts to help answer the question, after some south Fulton residents asked to be annexed into the city, but not to leave their schools behind.

Traditionally, the boundaries of the Atlanta Public Schools expand when the city does. But before Atlanta annexed more residents, it asked the court if that could change.

Monday, the State Supreme Court punted the question. Atlanta's suit to keep APS from expanding its boundaries was filed before any annexations were finalized, and was therefore a theoretical question, the Court said. It wasn't going to make a decision about where the students would go to school.

The Court ruled that because the city hadn't annexed the residents when the suit was filed, there was nothing to be decided. Since the suit was filed, some residents in the Loch Lomond area of Fulton County have been annexed into Atlanta. The children who live there are still in Fulton schools for this school year, but it is unclear what will happen next year.

In an email, a spokesperson for the city said Atlanta had filed suit in the hopes of getting the Court “to declare that the City has the legal right to honor these residents’ desire to become part of the City, but remain in their existing Fulton County Schools.”

While the lawsuit was premature, the spokesperson said it was important that “the Supreme Court expressed no view as to the merits of the City’s legal position.”

It's the same result as another suit the Court decided earlier this year about whether Atlanta could annex the Fulton Industrial corridor.

In both cases, the Court said, Atlanta was asking the Court’s opinion about whether local constitutional amendments were valid before it took the needed actions to challenge them.

Lawyers for Atlanta said an old constitutional amendment that calls for the school district to expand its boundaries when the city does is unconstitutional and "an anachronism that should have been allowed to expire."

The issue was of particular interest as Atlanta annexed portions of previously unincorporated Fulton.

APS and the Fulton County Schools argued that Atlanta was apparently concerned that going to APS “could be an impediment to future annexations in Fulton County.” The city’s argument, they say, is “based entirely on an improper, hyper-technical interpretation” of the law.

A spokesperson for APS said in an email, “The decision stands on its own. We will continue to work with the city as we move forward.”