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Clayton Schools' SACS response due today

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

The Clayton County school system will know if it is under investigation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) by the beginning of next week.

The district has been collecting documents, and preparing a response to inquiries from the SACS' Council on Accreditation and School Improvement (SACS CASI). Last month, the accrediting agency sent the school system a list of complaints that have been lodged against various school board members, that include allegations of micromanagement, unethical behavior, and misspending or misuse of funds.

The due date for the system's response is today. SACS CASI staff members are expected to make their decision about launching an investigation within 48 to 72 hours after they receive that response.

The status of Clayton County's 59 elementary, middle and high schools -- some of whom have been accredited for more than 50 years -- is at stake.

"We will look at the response from the school system and decide whether they have provided enough evidence to refute these accusations, and if so, is it satisfactory," said Dr. Mark Elgart, the president of SACS CASI.

"If there is no evidence, or not enough to refute the accusations, then an investigation will take place."

According to Elgart, the school system could be in violation of four of SACS CASI's seven accreditation standards, including vision and purpose; governance and leadership; resources and support systems, and stakeholder communication and relationships.

Elgart was not sure if the school system had already sent a response on Tuesday, because he and his staff were just returning to the Atlanta area after participating in a SACS conference in Florida.

Charles White, a spokesman for the system, said the response will be sent by law firm of Brock, Clay Calhoun and Rogers, P.C., which has been hired to deal with the issue.

The firm is drafting a corrective-action plan on the board's behalf. White said he couldn't give further details about the status or content of the response.

In recent weeks, Elgart has indicated an investigation was "highly likely," and it is "possible" the school system could lose its accreditation.

If Elgart's staff decides an investigation is necessary, an on-site visit will take place in mid-to-late January. The visit will be conducted by a team of "trained professionals" who are not employed by SACS, but are trained to do an investigation for the agency, Elgart said. The majority of the members of the on-site visit team will be from Georgia.

The visit will last only a couple of days, and the team's report should be completed 30 days later. If the team recommends probation, it will go to SACS CASI's Georgia State Council in March, where a decision will be made about accepting the recommendation.

If the team recommends revoking the school system's accreditation, the Georgia State Council will only review the recommendation before passing it along to the national council, which won't meet until June, Elgart said.

While the school system has previously insisted it is not involved with SACS' inquiries about the board members, the head of SACS CASI is painting a different picture.

"Although the accusations have only identified a few of the board members, we will be investigating the entire Board of Education, administration and the school system to make sure its policies and procedures meet our standards," Elgart said.

On Dec. 6, the Board of Education announced it was not going to speak to the media about the SACS-related issues until they are resolved.