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School board member faces qualification challenge
Simmons may be left off ballot over nepotism concerns
Kelvin Simmons
Kelvin Simmons

Longtime Gainesville school board member Kelvin Simmons may not be on the school board election ballot this fall because of a new state anti-nepotism law.

Gainesville Superintendent of Elections Denise Jordan is challenging Simmons’ candidacy because his wife, Audrey Simmons, is an assistant principal at Gainesville Middle School.

Jordan said she is challenging Simmons’ qualification based on House Bill 251, which became state law July 1. The U.S. Department of Justice precleared the law Aug. 26, making it fully enforceable.

House Bill 251, which also contains changes in school choice laws, declares that no one with an immediate family member sitting on a local board of education or serving as the local school superintendent or as a principal, assistant principal, or system administrative staff in the local school system can serve as a member of the same board of education. The bill defines an immediate family member as "a spouse, child, sibling, or parent or the spouse of a child, sibling or parent."

The law change applies only to local board of education members seeking election or appointment on or after July 1. Simmons is seeking election on the Nov. 3 ballot.

Simmons, who has been a fixture on the Gainesville school board since his appointment in 1991, said he wants to help kids and will let the city determine whether he is a legitimate candidate.

"It’s up to the city to handle that," he said. "I’ve served well and I’ve made a difference in kids’ lives and I’m going to continue to do that, whether I’m on the school board or not."

Jordan said hearings will be held at City Hall in the next few weeks to sort out Simmons’ status in the election.

"There will have to be a hearing to determine whether he’s eligible to be on the ballot or not," Jordan said. "... At the hearing, what will happen is evidence will be presented and, of course, Mr. Simmons will have an opportunity to participate as well."

Jordan said Simmons also will have an opportunity to appeal any decision.

Delores Diaz and Richard Lacey also qualified this week for Simmons’ Ward 4 seat on the school board. Diaz said she has no plans to contest Simmons’ candidacy.

"I think that’s completely between him and the city," she said. "I plan to run on my own merits."

Simmons received word of the upcoming hearings Friday shortly after the Fair Street-Butler High School Reunion organization presented him an award for his service to education.