Columbia County school officials on Tuesday rescinded a 4-year-old resolution in which they set the location of bus stops, unwittingly testing a state law cracking down on sex offenders.
Officials hope the revocation will prompt a federal judge to dismiss a lawsuit against Columbia County Sheriff Clay Whittle.
U.S. District Judge Clarence Cooper ruled July 25, 2006 that bus stops must be officially designated by local school boards for a state law banning registered sex offenders from living within 1,000 feet of a school bus stop to apply.
About four hours after his ruling, the Columbia County board, at the urging of then-District Attorney Danny Craig, unanimously passed a resolution designating the county's roughly 5,000 school bus stops. The boards of Chatham and Bulloch counties soon followed the lead.
That week, attorneys for the Southern Center for Human Rights and the American Civil Liberties Union persuaded Cooper to grant a temporary restraining order blocking police from enforcing the bus stop law.
Later, the center took up the cause of registered sex offender and one-time Harlem resident Wendy Whitaker, who would have had to move.
"Because Columbia County was the first school board to designate stops, Sheriff Whittle was added as a defendant to (a lawsuit spearheaded by Whitaker and the center) and a representative of a class of sheriff defendants throughout the state," said Augusta attorney David Hudson, who represents Whittle and The Augusta Chronicle .
After the initial resolution was passed, some school officials said they felt duped by Craig, now a Superior Court judge, into designating the bus stops. Craig admitted that he wanted the school board to designate bus stops in order to force the court to find flaws in the law.
Now, officials seemingly just want the issue to end.
"In the years since Columbia County designated its school bus stops, there is little doubt that those designations are now obsolete," Hudson said in an e-mail. "Bus routes change; students are added or dropped; new schools are opened and new routes are created."
Hudson said he has contacted school officials in Chatham and Bulloch counties about dropping their bus stop designations but has not yet received a reply.
If those counties agree to revoke those designations, Hudson said, it "would give grounds for the federal court in Atlanta to dismiss those portions of the Whitaker claim as well."
School board member Mike Sleeper said that he spoke with Whittle and Craig before Tuesday's meeting and that both agreed that dropping the designations was in the best interest of the school system.
Superintendent Charles Nagle said he wanted to revoke the resolution to protect the board from its own potential lawsuit.
Reach Donnie Fetter at (706) 868-1222, ext. 115, or firstname.lastname@example.org.