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Case will be crucial to schools to Warren

ATLANTA, Ga. --- The stakes are big, especially for students in the Warren County school system, because they stand to lose the most.

That appears to be the single biggest thing that officials and residents who are at odds with each other agree upon.

At issue is the possibility that the school system, which has slightly less than 800 students, could lose its Southern Association of Colleges and Schools accreditation at the end of this month. It is expected that school officials would file an appeal should that happen, which would keep the school system accredited at least until a more permanent solution could be reached.

In addition, there also is the possibility that three current school board members could be removed from office.

If the school system ends up losing its SACS accreditation, it would jeopardize the chances of graduates of Warren County High School who plan to go to college. It would be a big blow to the school system from a financial standpoint. It would also lose $4 million in federal funds for its planned career academy.

For the past three days, school board members Clara B. Roberts, Cecil Brown and Dr. Charles Culver have been tied up in a court case in the state's capitol, trying to defend themselves against a group of residents who want Gov. Sonny Perdue to oust them from office.

The group of residents bringing the action -- including John and Carolyn Martin and William Downs, all of whom live in Warren County, wants the three board members removed from office for breach of public trust, among other allegations -- one of which dealt with racial discrimination in the hiring of teachers. The three also have refused to sign an ethics pledge.

Two other school board members, Gwendolyn Tucker and Randy Morris, are not involved in the legal action. Mrs. Tucker serves as chairwoman, while Mr. Morris is vice-chairman. Mrs. Tucker, who has served on the school board since 1984, testified in the case this week.

The case was expected to wrap up with testimony from Mrs. Roberts and Mr. Brown on Wednesday. It is not known exactly when Office of State Administrative Hearings Judge John B. Gatto will rule on the case. If he finds evidence to support the residents bringing the legal action, it could lead to them being removed from office by Gov. Perdue.

Should that happen, it would mark only the second time that school board members have been removed from office in the United States. In both instances, it would have involved cases in Georgia. The only case where that happened in the state was in Clayton County two years ago when the school system lost its SACS accreditation and board members were removed from office.

During the second day of court proceedings Tuesday, Judge Gatto delivered Mr. Brown and Dr. Culver some good news when he dismissed discrimination allegations against them.

The judge's action came after Atlanta attorney Brian Watkins sought an involuntary dismissal of the discrimination allegations against two of his three clients -- Mr. Brown and Dr. Culver.

Mr. Watkins cited three points: direct evidence, McDonald Douglas Standard and adverse employment action. He has been given a week to file documents with the court to support his contention that opposing lawyers Rob Fortson and Chuck Bachman had not proven their case against Mr. Brown and Dr. Culver concerning hiring discrimination practices.

Web posted on Thursday, July 08, 2010

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