As DeKalb County’s school district struggles with the threat of losing its accreditation, one former school board member the governor suspended wants her old seat back.
Pam Speaks is appealing to Gov. Nathan Deal to restore her to the school board, arguing in a letter that she’s an “exemplary board member” who deserves to serve the district she was twice elected to represent. She’s the first of the six ousted board members seeking to be reinstated.
“I ran for this seat with the slogan ‘Pam Speaks for the children,’ ” wrote Speaks, whose “super-district” covers the eastern half of DeKalb. “I was then and will continue to speak not only for the children within District 8 but for the approximately 99,000 children in the school district.”
Deal suspended Speaks and five other members on Feb. 25 under a 2011 law that gives him authority to remove school boards in districts on accreditation probation. The move came after the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools placed DeKalb on probation and threatened to strip accreditation if the system didn’t address management shortcomings.
Since then, Deal has appointed six new board members chosen from a field of hundreds of parents, advocates and others who applied for the job. While Speaks is the only ousted member to ask to be reinstated, several others have publicly said they were considering it, and former chairman Eugene Walker has filed a lawsuit challenging his suspension.
The other suspended board members have until next Friday to petition for reinstatement or they’ll be automatically removed. Speaks and any other members who petition would go before an administrative law judge at a reinstatement hearing within the next three months.
Deal said he won’t close the door on the possibility of Speaks or other board members returning, but noted that the administrative judge must first weigh the decision.
“It’s always something we have to keep in mind,” he said. “But it won’t be my decision exclusively.”
Some shell-shocked parents are wary of any attempts by ousted board members to return. Jennifer Hatfield, the mother of two DeKalb County students, said Speaks’ return could hamper the board’s efforts.
“For the good of the district and to keep the momentum going forward, I think we should focus on the folks who have been appointed,” she said. “But I do think she was the best of the board members who were suspended.”
Speaks couldn’t be reached for comment, but in her letter she didn’t fault Deal for suspending her and five of her colleagues. Instead, she promised she would not disappoint if she was restored.
“I have lived long enough and my life experiences have taught me that doing the right thing is not always easy or expedient,” she wrote. “Nevertheless, Governor Deal, I am respectfully requesting that you grant me the opportunity to successfully complete the mission that I began in 2009 and was re-elected to continue in 2012.”