Local residents who are dissatisfied with Forsyth County Schools’ high school redistricting plan filed suit in Superior Court Monday afternoon for emergency injunctive relief ahead of a board of education meeting scheduled for Tuesday evening.
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The suit, which was filed Monday in Forsyth County Superior Court, alleges several violations of Georgia open meeting and open records law and asks for the following: A preliminary injunction preventing board members from voting to approve the redistricting plan at their regular meeting Tuesday; an order requiring the district “to comply with the Open Meetings Act by making all [redistricting] meetings open to the public … and providing minutes and agendas for such meetings” and to void “any votes or actions taken by the Redistricting Committee where the Open Meetings Act was violated,” according to the complaint — a copy of which the Forsyth County News obtained.
The suit also requests civil penalties against 12 defendants as remediation for the alleged violation of the open records and open meetings acts. The defendants include all BOE members, several administrative staff members and the district as a whole.
Christopher Adams, of Krevolin and Horst, LLC, the attorney representing Citizens for Common Sense and others listed as the plaintiffs, said the suit, at its core, stems from an alleged lack of transparency during the redistricting process.
“This is about transparency,” Adams said. “When the district holds nine closed Redistricting Committee meetings to create its plan, that’s not a transparent process. The Open Meetings Act requires these meetings to be public, [and] it appears the Committee only seriously considered one option – and it's an option that doesn't make much sense. If you're going to take kids away from schools they can walk to and have them drive five, six and seven miles away, you should at least be transparent about the process and the alternatives considered.”
Prior to filing suit, Adams sent a letter, dated Nov. 9, to the state Attorney General's office alleging the district held meetings where no public notice was given and claimed no minutes were kept, which are open meetings and open records act violations.
FCS spokeswoman Jennifer Caracciolo told FCN the district does not comment on legal issues, though “the redistricting committee meetings were administrative staff meetings [and] the committee was not appointed nor approved by the Board of Education.”
Administrative meetings are exempt from the Georgia Open Meetings Act.
“I provided the list of committee meeting dates to this group of parents,” Caracciolo said. “The opportunity to provide public comment, including at meetings of the BOE, on redistricting were: Sept. 13 – 27, Oct. 23 [and] Oct. 24. Additionally, public comment on redistricting was provided during the public participation portions of the BOE monthly meeting dates, listed at https://www.forsyth.k12.ga.us/page/25. The public had 15 days to provide online feedback and six days to provide feedback at a meeting, for a total of 21 days to provide input since August 8.”
Caracciolo added FCS “kept the public informed by posting information at the webpage above, as well as on district and school social media, websites, newsletters and in the local media.”
“Our BOE meetings are also taped; the link is on the redistricting page and also on the homepage of our website,” she said.
Creekstone subdivision resident Chris Reilly told FCN the suit could have been avoided.
“It was totally avoidable,” he said. “Had [the board] made some minor accommodations to a few key requests relative to proximity for a few key neighborhoods and had they taken a motion to allow rising juniors to remain at their [current] schools, this probably would not have occurred and we probably would not be going through this process.”
Since September, when a draft of the redistricting map was first presented to board members, parents have expressed frustration with the committee’s six main objectives for drawing the map as it is.
The objectives are: populate Denmark High at a level that provides the school with the capacity to offer and develop programs comparable to other county high schools; reduce overcrowding at South, Lambert and West; balance projected enrollments to minimize temporary classrooms and maintain consistent feeder patterns with current high schools as much as possible while establishing a clear, consistent feeder pattern to Denmark within established feeder pattern guidelines, Deputy Superintendent of Schools Joey Pirkle previously said.
Three Chimneys Farm subdivision resident Shannon Cox said the process was illogical.
“I was expecting [the committee] to redistrict the area in a logical way that made sense,” she said. “We agree with proximity issues, there’s transportation and logistics that just don’t seem to match and the board came to our community specifically mentioning the things that were important to them were: proximity, logistics, travel patterns and feeder patterns, at the beginning of this entire process. Once we provided our feedback regarding those [issues,] their response were those were no longer [primary] criteria and that they were focused on head count.”
Cox added she feels BOE members and the redistricting committee have been dismissive during the process. “When you can actually hear your board members say, ‘well, I don’t want to make light of it, but…’ it shows that [they’re] not taking it seriously,” she said. “The parents have been here listening at every meeting for the last two and a half months and we’re coming at 4 o’clock and we’re juggling schedules just to make sure that we can be there and it just doesn’t seem that they’ve put the focus on what we need.”