Fulton County Schools has abruptly ended a longstanding program allowing out-of-district students to attend Sandy Springs’ North Springs Charter High School for a fee. The largely unexplained move, announced the week of the Fourth of July holiday and just over a month before the school year starts, has 14 families scrambling – and seven of them hiring a lawyer to fight it.

In brief comments, FCS spokesperson Susan Hale said the out-of-district enrollment is illegal under the district’s charter system, adopted in 2012, but went unnoticed. She did not respond to questions about who did notice, when, or why the district chose the timing and response it has.

Shortly after the Reporter revealed the threat of a lawsuit, Hale added that the district has a “resolution” in the works, though an attorney for the seven students said no direct contact or proposal has yet been made.

“I can share that the district has contacted the families involved and we have communicated what we believe is a resolution,” Hale said. “However, the district can’t share full details at this time. In the near future we will discuss this openly and transparently, based on information that has come to light this past week.”

The entrance of North Springs Charter High School at 7447 Roswell Road. (Fulton County Schools)

Regarding the reason for the policy change, Hale said, “During various personnel transitions in school governance and other district leadership positions, the practice of admitting out-of-district tuition paying students at North Springs went unmonitored by the FCS Academics Department. As soon as it was brought to the attention of current FCS leadership, appropriate action was taken.”

The Hilbert Law Firm, a Sandy Springs-based practice representing seven of the students – some of whom have learning disabilities or special needs — says the moves put them in “limbo” and “break[s] their promises.” And Citizens for a New North Springs, the group that last month successfully pushed FCS to pledge to build a new high school building, says it is concerned that the move relates to Superintendent Jeff Rose’s still mysterious statement that the new facility will be smaller due to lower enrollment projections.

“These students are now left in limbo with respect to the upcoming school year, and the continuity of their high school tenure has been disrupted, which will certainly result in long-term impacts,” said a written statement provided by Kelly Himes Brolly, the attorney representing the seven students, saying they should be grandfathered in. “Absent this resolution, the families will have to consider their legal options,” the statement says, adding that federal law could be involved in the case of students who need “special accommodations” for learning.

All seven students threatening to sue are residents of DeKalb County, according to law firm head Kurt Hilbert.

Regarding talk of a “resolution” from FCS, Brolly said she and her clients had not been contacted directly and had only heard “rumors” of a concept of a legal agreement between the Fulton and DeKalb school districts that would allow the out-of-district enrollment to continue in some form.

North Springs High, located at 7447 Roswell Road, is a dual-magnet school in both arts and math/science, intended to pull students from across the district and, until now, other districts as well. Some parents say that many of the out-of-district students come from neighboring Dunwoody. The students had to pay a tuition, which Hale would not specify, but which sources say was $3,000 to $5,000 a year – but may also have gone unbilled.

Hale said that of the 14 affected students, three are seniors who will be allowed a “one-time hardship” – if the students are paid up on tuition. The others were rising sophomores or juniors. “Staff also is working with families and neighboring districts/schools to ensure the successful transition of students back to their home schools,” said Hale.

Hale did not specify what that assistance is. The DeKalb County School District did not have immediate comment on the North Springs situation.

North Springs High has been the subject of controversy for nearly a year as the CFANNS group pushed FCS to rebuild, rather than just renovate, the 55-year-old school. The cause was taken up by Sandy Springs Mayor Rusty Paul and the City Council as well.

Update: This story has been updated with further comments from Fulton County Schools and attorney Kelly Himes Brolly.

John Ruch is an Atlanta-based journalist. Previously, he was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.