ATLANTA - A federal judge is temporarily preventing Georgia's governor from replacing DeKalb County school board members who were recommended for suspension by the state Board of Education.
Gov. Nathan Deal had scheduled a news conference for 11 a.m. Monday to announce whether he would follow the recommendation to suspend six of the nine board members. That briefing has now been moved to 2:30 p.m. The order from U.S. District Judge Richard Story doesn't restrain the governor from suspending board members, but it enjoins him from implementing any decision pending a court hearing Friday.
The judge's ruling was in response to a request from the DeKalb County school board. The school board is challenging the Georgia law that allows the governor to suspend and ultimately remove board members at the recommendation of the state Board of Education. That can occur in school systems placed on probation by an accreditation authority.
The judge's ruling calls a time out in the case until Friday.
"If Governor Deal decides to appoint any new member to the board, that proposed member shall not be permitted to take office at this time," Story's order said. "Similarly, if Governor Deal decides to remove any current member of the board, that member will remain in office, but shall not be permitted to act on behalf of the board or take any other official action in his or her capacity as board member."
The DeKalb system, the state's third largest public school system, is at risk of losing accreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.
The association has put DeKalb County on probation because of a report the association issued in December about abusive behavior, nepotism and questionable financial decisions by board members. An ensuing shakeup left the board with a new chairman and new superintendent.
Even with the changes, the Georgia Board of Education agreed Thursday to recommend suspending six DeKalb board members.
Deal told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he's concerned that the board's dysfunction could taint the broader Atlanta metro area if left unchecked.
"We don't want anything to occur that will jeopardize what a diploma from a DeKalb County high school might mean, so everything that can be done to facilitate and bring this all to some logical conclusion serves us all," he said.
Last week, parents delivered to the governor a petition with more than 1,800 signatures asking him to remove the board members.
Rather than suspending the six, Deal could consider a plan pushed by some legislators to allow the governor's office to monitor the school board's progress in a tightly controlled agreement if the county would abandon its legal challenge to the suspension law.
"There are options other than removal," Democratic Sen. Jason Carter of Decatur said. "Otherwise, the problem he faces is that there's fallout in both directions. If he doesn't remove the board, there's criticism from people who want them removed. And if he does, you're removing people who are duly elected."