By John Schaffner
Fulton County Superior Court Judge John J. Goger ruled Nov. 23 that the election held by the five-member majority of the Atlanta Board of Education in September—electing a new chair and vice chair after a series of board policy changes—was legal.
In a consent decree, that evolved from a four-hour meeting behind closed doors with the judge, all members of the school board agreed that the current chair Khaatim Sheerer El and vice chair Yolanda Johnson would resign that replacements would be elected later on Nov. 23 at a special meeting of the board.
It was determined the new chair and vice chair would be a compromise: one from the five-member board majority and one from the four-member minority on the board that brought the lawsuit.
El was re-elected as chair. Members then nominated both Cicely Harsch-Kinnane and Reuben McDaniel—two of the board’s four dissenters—to be vice chair. The board eventually appointed Harsch-Kinnane by a 5-3 vote.
Harsch-Kinnane voted against herself, but the board’s five-member majority supported her.
The board minority had filed the lawsuit Oct. 28 seeking to overturn the actions of the majority that resulted in unseating board chair LaChandra Butler Burks and vice chair Harsch-Kinnane and replacing them with El as chair and Johnson as vice chair
All of the controversy centered around actions taken in September, when the majority, in a series of 5-4 votes, changed board procedures and replaced board chair Burks and vice-chair Harsch-Kinnane.
School board members Nancy Meister, Brenda Muhammad and Courtney English were the three other members, along with El and Johnson, who voted as the majority block. .
In addition to Burks and Harsch-Kinnane, the minority includeed McDaniel III and Emmett Johnson.
The question of the legitimacy of the way the board leadership was changed had raised questions about the board’s ability to effectively run the school system and whether or not decisions made by this board are valid.
El and others in the majority went before Judge Goger on Oct. 29 in a face-off with the minority. Goger declined that day to temporarily reinstate the board’s former chairperson and vice chairperson, saying he was not persuaded “at this time” that their replacement was illegal. Thus, the final hearing in the case was set for Nov. 23.
“We filed a lawsuit in Fulton County Superior Court seeking to return the Atlanta School System to compliance with state law,” board members Burks, Harsch-Kinnane, McDaniel and Johnson wrote in an open letter to the community Oct. 28. “Three different legal entities – the system attorney, an outside expert whose opinion was attained by the system attorney, and the state Attorney General – have all advised the board that the recent actions taken to repeal board policy and replace the chair and vice-chair were in violation of the state charter governing APS. We were also informed by SACS, the agency that accredits APS high schools, that the enactment of board policies not in compliance with our state charter could have a negative impact on our accreditation status.”