McGraw asks court to throw out DeSantis order

Scales of justice
Scales of justice
Corgarashu via Shutterstock

In a court filing early Tuesday Diyonne McGraw’s attorney accused Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis of abusing his power and asked a circuit court to throw out his declaration that the School Board of Alachua County (SBAC) District 2 seat is vacant

Attorney Keith Alan II filed the petition with the Eighth Judicial Circuit Court in Alachua County, the same court that last week denied an injunction request from plaintiffs who were seeking to block McGraw from voting in last week’s school board meeting. 

“Governor DeSantis has contravened Florida’s separation of powers doctrine by issuing Executive Order 21-147,” Alan wrote in his 15-page petition, saying the governor acted with “reckless disregard” for the court’s prior opinion. “That Executive Order purports to declare a vacancy in the District 2 seat of Alachua County’s School Board though that legal issue is reserved for judicial determination.” 

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Alan went on to argue that even if the court does not rule the executive order unconstitutional, it does not remove McGraw from office or allow DeSantis to appoint anyone to the open seat. 

“Instead, that appointee would have standing to challenge Mrs. McGraw’s title to the District 2 seat via the filing of a petition for writ of pro warranto,” Alan wrote. He said until the court ruled on the matter, “Mrs. McGraw would remain the de facto holder of the District 2 seat eligible to vote and conduct business as usual.”

The filing made three requests: require DeSantis to explain the authority for his decision, determine the executive order was unconstitutional, and declare it void. 

When reached by phone Tuesday morning, Jeff Childers, who represents the plaintiffs, said the petition is a new case between McGraw and the governor. He said it’s not clear that it will involve his clients but still cast doubt on the merits. 

“I question the good faith of a continued contest to Ms. McGraw’s status give there is no dispute over whether she lives in the district and no effort to change the law related to district residency requirements,” Childers said. “All they’re really saying is she deserves a chance to tie this up in court before she is finally found to be not qualified for the office, and we disagree with that.”

The petition comes as the school board prepares to meet twice on Tuesday. In the event of any tied votes on action items, Alachua County Public Schools (ACPS) spokesperson Jackie Johnson said the item “would not be approved”—but it now appears McGraw may participate. 

SBAC is scheduled to address a range of issues beginning at 1 p.m. with a special workshop. The board will receive presentations on several title funds initiatives and an update on the overall budget that includes discussion of the $88 million in ESSER II (Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund) and American Rescue Plan (ARP) allocations.

Title 1 funding is designated to help schools close educational achievement gaps.

Title II funding aim aims to increase student academic achievements by providing training to teachers and school administrators. That training aims to increase professional development, help with recruitment and retention, and prioritize effective teachers for students with high needs.

Title IV aims to increase student support and academic enrichment by providing well-rounded education, improve school conditions for the health and safety of students, and improve technology to advance achievement and digital literacy.

Later in the day a special 6 p.m. board meeting will include a recommendation by Alachua County Public Schools Superintendent Carlee Simon that the SBAC approve proposed new and amended job descriptions for administrative, professional/technical (PT), and education support professionals (SP).

Both meetings afford the public the opportunity for public comment. But according to SBAC rules, enforced by Chair Leanetta McNealy in recent meetings, that public comment must pertain to the agenda item in special meetings.

The group Education Activists of Alachua County has advertised an event on Facebook called “Stronger Together: We stand with Diyonne.”

“Let’s show up at the school board meeting Tuesday to stand with Diyonne and ask board members Paulson and Hyatt to choose the vision and equity,” the event organized by Carolyn Crager Webber states.

Another McGraw supporter, Gainesville City Commissioner Gail Johnson, took to Facebook to urge her followers to “show up in full force to the school board meeting” on Tuesday.

Johnson blasted DeSantis’ decision: “Trumpian tactics, aided and abetted by progressives is now the order of the day in Alachua County.”

Johnson called out former county commissioner Susan Baird, claiming that Baird intentionally lived in a different district and faced no consequences.

“DeSantis, a mini Trump, preparing for a 2024 presidential run, now gets to install a board member of his own choosing,” Johnson wrote. “Authoritarianism anyone?”

Johnson also encouraged candidates to run against SBAC members Dr. Gunnar Paulson and Rob Hyatt in upcoming elections.

SBAC member Tina Certain applauded Johnson’s comments: “Thank you Commissioner Johnson for standing for right.”

Editor’s note: This story has been updated with information on the court filing and a response from Jeff Childers. 

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