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Fulton Schools board member questions ‘sole authority’ waiver for superintendent

Emergency powers have been in place for over four months

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NORTH FULTON—As education under emergency conditions begins to stabilize, Fulton Schools officials expect a return to business as usual for policy decisions in September.

The return to regular policy-making protocols may have arisen when a board member recently questioned the need to extend an emergency waiver allowing the superintendent greater latitude in policy decisions.

Last April when it became apparent the school year was about to be upended by the COVID-19 pandemic, School Superintendent Mike Looney took decisive action to ensure quick response. He requested, and received, unprecedented powers from the Fulton County Board of Education to waive “policies and procedures and operating guidelines” to quickly make decisions for the district. The initial approval was set to end June 1.

Standard protocol for changes to district policies requires a one-month review period by board members, community and often staff members before action is taken.

In April, instruction had moved to remote learning, and the school board was meeting via online sessions. Looney said the waiver would also bypass the need to call the board together for every decision, along with the required 24-hour notice of meetings.

“These are varying and uncertain times [with] information constantly changing,” Looney told the board in April. “It is not practical or feasible to make public notice to go through the policies.”

Although Looney said he expected the waiver giving him sole authority for policy decisions would not extend beyond June 1, the Fulton School Board has renewed the waiver three times.

During the Aug. 20 meeting, board member Katie Reeves questioned the need for continuing the waiver.

“One of the reasons we have the public process of going through the policies is because it’s very helpful for [the community],” said Reeves, who represents much of Alpharetta and Milton.

She cited a recent adjustment to the grading policy that caused some confusion from parents and staff members. Reeves also noted the board has resumed meeting at its regular time and place.

“I’m not sure for the publics’ sake we need to still be in the emergency process,” Reeves said. “I feel the time has come to step back into the regular public review.”

Under Georgia law, an elected school board is empowered to “establish policy for the local school system with the focus on student achievement.” The law also outlines the role of the superintendent shall be to implement the policy established by the local board.

Despite Reeves’ suggestion and lone dissent, the board voted 6-1 to extend the emergency waiver until Sept. 17. District officials expect to resume the normal policy review process at that time.

“We are all hopeful not to need to extend the waiver beyond the currently approved timeframe,” said Brian Noyes, chief communications officer for Fulton Schools.

Candy Waylock is an award winning education reporter who has covered all things education for Appen Media over the past 20 years. She is an Alpharetta resident.

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