ATLANTA – A Fulton Superior Court judge dismissed a lawsuit brought against the Fulton County School System, ruling she saw nothing improper about information contained on the system’s website regarding the upcoming charter amendment vote.
The plaintiff’s attorney, Glenn Delk, had asked the court to force the school system to remove the question and answer information, which he claims was a “thinly veiled attempt to influence the vote against the charter amendment.” In its place, he asked for a banner headline that proclaimed the school system’s neutrality on the issue.
On Nov. 6, voters will be asked to decide the fate of a constitutional amendment that would allow an appointed state commission to approve local charter schools, without the approval of the local boards of education.
Delk, who represents a group of charter school parents, none of whom live in the Fulton County school district, also included the Gwinnett County School System in the lawsuit.
In a conversation prior to the court hearing, Delk said he hoped to secure a temporary injunction forcing Gwinnett and Fulton to remove the information on the websites, which he hoped would ultimately compel other systems across the state to voluntarily do so.
Delk says he tried to work with the Fulton County School System to remove the Q and A, and gave the system until last Friday to remove the posting. However, Fulton School officials maintain the information is factual and neutral, and seeks only to provide information on questions staff and the public were asking.
“Our intent was to share information with board members, staff and stakeholders who have questions about the upcoming vote,” said Samantha Evans, communications director for Fulton Schools. “As an educational institution, the public is leaning on us to answer some of these questions, but we are in no way taking a position.”
In fact, within the 10-question posting is a statement that the Fulton School System is neutral on the issue — a point Superior Court Judge Wendy Shoob brought up in the hearing.
But Delk insisted the anti-amendment tone could be inferred within the document, and the line between information and advocacy was crossed. He maintained that was a violation of the state constitution.
In a slightly contentious exchange, Shoob attempted to pin down Delk on how information could be provided from staff to parents who ask for information.
“Are they supposed to say, ‘ask me after 5 p.m.?’” questioned Shoob. “So public employees can’t express their opinion or provide information before 5 p.m.?”
“Yes, ma’am,” answered Delk.
In a letter sent to the Fulton County School System, Delk said three of the 10 questions are “slanted.” The issues relate to “unelected appointees” serving on the charter commission; the estimate of the cost in state funds to operate commission-approved schools; and how local schools in Fulton are currently funded.
Attorneys for the Fulton School System answered back that all information was factual, and pointed to the source for each answer. Shoob indicated she had read both the complaint and the answers from the school system and did not see where advocacy is apparent.
“I don’t believe there is any evidence to support this claim,” concluded Shoob. “I don’t see the Q and A as any big deal.”
Following the hearing, Fulton Superintendent Robert Avossa said he was confident the school system would prevail.
“When you are open and transparent in everything you do, the truth always comes out,” said Avossa.
With Fulton no longer part of the lawsuit, Shoob transferred the lawsuit against the Gwinnett County School System to the Gwinnett courts.