By Donna Thornton / Times Staff Writer
Posted Aug 3, 2017 at 5:45 PM Updated Aug 3, 2017 at 5:45 PM
The lawsuit brought by three parents with children in Gadsden City Schools will go to a mediator after a judge’s order last month.
In an order July 25, Etowah County Circuit Judge Billy Ogletree ordered the case to mediation, meaning efforts must be made to iron out the issues raised in the lawsuit behind closed doors.
The parents — Xavier Smith, William Haller and Taylor Holland — sued the four board members as individuals claiming they violated the state’s Open Meetings Law, and that they violated the School Board Governance Act of 2012.
Current board members Frank Cylar, Wayne Watts and Deborah Howard and former board member Lynn Taylor were named in the lawsuit.
The lawsuit came after a June 6 board meeting where the four named in the lawsuit voted to start a national search for a new superintendent, effectively giving notice that Superintendent Ed Miller’s contract would not be renewed after it expires at the end of August.
Three other members of the school board voiced objections at the meeting, saying they’d not been consulted about the action, that it was not on the board’s agenda for the meeting and indicating a belief that the other board members had met without them to discuss the action.
The plaintiffs lawsuit said the “Defendants have further conspired among themselves and with others to interfere with the legal and orderly administration and operation of the Gadsden City School system and with the contract of the Superintendent.”
The judge’s order allows the parties 14 days to select a mediator by agreement, then the matter is to be submitted for mediation within 90 days. If more time is needed, the parties must make a request with the judge.
Mediation is closed and no record is kept of what is discussed, unless the mediator deems it appropriate to stipulate all facts and agreements when a settlement is reached.
If a partial or complete settlement is reached, it is reduced to writing and signed by the parties and their attorneys in the presence of the mediator.
Within 10 days of the end of mediation, whether a settlement is reached or not, the mediator and attorneys of record must file a Final Status Report with the court.
Prior to the order for mediation, the defendants in the case filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that no part of the Open Meetings law bars a board from offering motions and taking actions that are not on its agenda.
Regarding the claim that the board members violated the School Board Governance Improvement Act, the motion states that the statute provides for the local board of education to censure a member who violates the act; it does not provide for a private right of action. To make such a claim, the plaintiff must prove lawmakers intended for the act to give them the right to sue, according to the motion to dismiss.
Further, the motion states that the plaintiffs provided no specific facts or allege any specific cause of action that interfered “with the legal and orderly administration and operation of the Gadsden City School system.”
“If there was a cause of action concerning interference with the Superintendent’s contract, Plaintiffs would not have standing to assert such a claim. Rather, such a claim must be brought by the Superintendent himself,” the motion states.