The DeKalb County School District (DCSD) and Superintendent Cheryl Atkinson are being sued by a former teacher for allegedly withholding information related to an Open Records request.
The suit was filed Dec. 3 by attorney Julie Oinonen, who is representing former Dunwoody High School graduation coach Cynthia Gipson. Gipson was laid off earlier this year due to a reduction in force.
According to the lawsuit, Gipson received a tip that information related to her dismissal hearing was contained in some of Atkinson’s text messages. As a result of the tip, Gipson filed an Open Records request Aug. 30 to obtain text messages from Atkinson’s DCSD-issued cellphone pertaining to her case.
Gipson was first informed May 9 that her contract with the district would not be renewed. The suit states that since Gipson is a “tenured” Georgia educator, she is subject to have the opportunity under the Fair Dismissal Act to present evidence in a non-renewal hearing in front of a tribunal.
An Open Records request was filed so Gipson could present the texts that related to her case during her tribunal hearing. However, after more than a month after her initial request, she and her attorney hadn’t received a response from the district.
The district eventually sent Gipson and Oinonen a response Oct. 19 that stated, “Dr. Atkinson’s phone has been reviewed today Oct. 19, 2012 and she has no text messages on her personal phone.”
According to the suit, after Gipson threatened a lawsuit the district sent a message on behalf of Atkinson stating that if she withdrew her Open Records request, she and the 11 others who were laid off would get their jobs back.
After the Gipson accepted the offer, the suit alleges that DCSD reversed its decision as more parties became involved in the issue.
DeKalb Schools spokesman Jeff Dickerson said that the board voted to hire outside counsel to represent Atkinson in the suit, claiming that the general counsel that represents the board would have a conflict of interest.
“They were hired to sort of sort through her personal and business texts and as far as I know, this process was continuing when the lawsuit was filed,” Dickerson said.
The lawsuit states that the district has been its “own worst enemy” and forced the issues to go public due to “disastrous” decision making.
“After revoking the promise to the plaintiff and flouting the numerous olive branches extended to fairly resolve the claims prior to the hearing, the hearing commenced and the plaintiff had no choice but to seek to disclose such evidence in her defense,” the suit states.
The lawsuit against DCSD and Atkinson is seeking enforcement of the Georgia Open Records Act as well as attorney’s fees and the cost of litigation.