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Charter Amendment Fight Heads to Court in Gwinnett County

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A lawsuit claiming the Gwinnett County School District, its superintendent and the Georgia School Boards Association improperly used taxpayer resources to campaign against a proposed charter school amendment heads to court Wednesday.

Several taxpayers and parents filed the lawsuit in Gwinnett County Superior Court earlier this month. Attorney Josh Belinfante represents the group and says the school system and its superintendent engaged in activities that violate the law.

“The school district passed a board resolution opposing the amendment. Obviously that was done on public time, using public resources, and Superintendent Wilbanks has spoken to various groups during the workday about his opposition.”

The lawsuit also claims the Georgia School Boards Association is using the funds it receives through local school districts to actively campaign against the amendment. But Attorney Phil Hartley who represents the Georgia School Boards Association says the association is not breaking the law.

“The School Boards Association is a private corporation with its own board of directors, and it certainly has the same first amendment rights as any other entity in our state to express itself and take part in the political debate.”

Another group of taxpayers has filed a similar lawsuit against the district that has yet to be heard in court. In a recent statement, Gwinnett County School Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks says he’s done nothing wrong or improper. Fulton County Superior Court Judge Wendy Shoob recently ruled that the Fulton County School District did not have to take down a question and answer document about the amendment off its website because it did not violate the law. The ruling came after an opinion from Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens to State School Superintendent John Barge that said school boards could not use taxpayer resources for ballot advocacy.