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GAE Lawsuit Challenges Atlanta Turnaround Plan

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                         DECEMBER 13, 2016

ATLANTA -- “In August, the Georgia Association of Educators (GAE), Atlanta Association of Educators, and individual employees, filed suit in Fulton County Superior Court against the Atlanta Public Schools (APS) for noncompliance with the state’s Charter School Act (CSA),” said GAE President Dr. Sid Chapman.

On March 7, 2016, the Atlanta Board of Education adopted a “turnaround plan” that calls for contracting out the entire operation and management of five schools, including Thomasville Heights Elementary, to two private charter operators. The lawsuit takes aim at the turnaround plan and its false narrative of chronically failing public schools.

“The suit contends there is nothing in the CSA —or anywhere else in Title 20 of the education code—that authorizes school districts to delegate contract away the operation and management of entire schools to private companies,” said Chapman. “In fact, state laws encourage community schools be governed at the school level by governing bodies consisting of school stakeholders, including teachers, parents and community members, with the elected school board retaining ultimate management and control of the schools. The lawsuit challenges both the legal authority and constitutional validity of the school district’s actions.”

“As actual practitioners in the classroom, we have a unique perspective on the causes of underperformance of our students,” said Chapman. “In communities such as the one that encompasses Thomasville Heights Elementary and others like it, there exists an ongoing cycle of challenges from absenteeism, poverty, racial segregation, hunger and nutrition, to housing, hygiene and parental and guardianship issues. These are the major impediments to educating poor, minority children. GAE’s lawsuit explains that APS’ plan to turn over the entire operation of five schools simply by executing contracts with private charter operators not only doesn’t address these issues, but the action is not authorized by the CSA. As Dr. Chapman stated, APS turnaround partnerships are entirely at odds with the law’s governance model. The turnaround plan in essence is telling these parents ‘we don’t trust you to make decisions about your schools.’”

Chapman also notes that the lawsuit addresses a broader problem of APS’s conversion into a charter school district on July 1. “As it currently stands,” he said, “the conversion will result in the loss of all affected APS teachers’ due process rights under state law.”

“There is no denying education has persistently failed these disadvantaged students,” said Chapman.

However, the lawsuit contends that Atlanta’s scheme of unilaterally turning over schools to private charter operators constitutes an end-run around the process for converting existing public schools into schools operated and managed by private companies. The lawsuit alleges that APS’ turnaround strategy skirts the processes and safeguards built into the charter conversion process, most notably that school level stakeholders and parents have advance notice of the school conversion and support it. GAE Executive Director Chris Baumann explained that, “we do not believe the legislature intended that its comprehensive system of laws governing charter schools could be sidestepped in this manner.”
Chapman underscores that the recent defeat of the Opportunity School District amendment, where 152 of 159 counties voted no, indicates that the public wants its local communities involved and the decision-making processes to not be co-opted or side-stepped.

“A community schools approach is what’s needed to address deep-seated community challenges,” stressed Chapman. He points to the report issued this past December, “Investing in What Works: Community-driven Strategies for Strong Public Schools,” authored by The Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University, and the Southern Education Foundation (SEF). The report is the most recent in a series of analyses of state takeover initiatives and other education governance reforms. Finding little evidence of success, the report provides an alternative vision for sustained school improvement inclusive of eight research-proven community-based strategies.
The report can be found at http://annenberginstitute.org/publications/investing-what-works-community-driven-strategies-strong-public-schools.
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The below-mentioned hearing was canceled by Judge Tusan and will be rescheduled at a later time.

Fulton County Chief Judge Gail Tusan will hear legal arguments from both sides on Thursday, December 15, 2016, at 9:00 A.M. in Courtroom 9G of the Lewis R. Slaton Courthouse, 136 Pryor Street, Atlanta.