Floyd County school board members will discuss at a called meeting today the state board’s decision to reverse former Coosa High counselor Gilda Day’s RIF and give her job back — a decision Day’s supporters hail as having statewide implications for the Fair Dismissal Act.
School board members are scheduled to enter a closed-door session at 5:30 p.m. to discuss whether they’ll appeal to Floyd County Superior Court. Chairman David Johnson said he anticipates no vote today on the appeal.
In its decision, the State Board of Education found Floyd County’s charter system is subject to the Fair Dismissal Act. It also said the local board failed to include Local School Governance Teams when making decisions on the Reduction in Force that cut 120 employees for this school year.
The decision has implications that reach statewide, said Mike McGonigle, general counsel for the Georgia Association of Educators.
“Today’s State Board decision stating that charter schools and systems cannot waive the Fair Dismissal Act is a huge win for all teachers,” McGonigle said Tuesday in a statement.
Julie Oinonen, Day’s attorney, agreed.
“What fair dismissal means is the right for teachers, administrators and support professionals to simply teach children in a learning environment that is free from the fear of retaliation and at-will termination,” she said in a release.
Day has since found employment with a public school outside of Floyd County. She has no plans of returning to Floyd County Schools, Oinonen said.
The state education board’s decision to reverse Day’s RIF is the latest development in the months-long case.
Day was one of 120 Floyd County educators affected by the RIF, and one of two to appear before the local board for a due process hearing.
The second educator was Pepperell Middle School teacher Michelle Woodall, who had her RIF reversed on a technicality.
The local board unanimously voted in May to uphold Superintendent Jeff McDaniel’s recommendation and not renew Day’s contract. Day appealed, arguing Floyd County violated its charter agreement when it failed to include Local School Governance Teams in the RIF process.
Day also argued the local board erred when it excluded evidence from the hearing she claimed showed the board violated its charter agreement.
According to the state board’s decision, Floyd County’s board argued it wasn’t subject to the Fair Dismissal Act because it’s a charter system. The state board decided that argument had no merit.
“The Fair Dismissal Act provides due process rights to certain school employees, which is a civil right,” the decision states. “Thus (the law) cannot be read so broadly as to violate the due process rights of school employees who are entitled to due process.”
The state board also found the local board failed to follow its charter system agreement and include LSGTs in the decision to implement the RIF. Instead McDaniel, the human resource director and a data analyst were the only people in the RIF committee and the ones who made the decision on the RIF.
“Furthermore, this Board finds, that based upon the evidence in the record, the record shows that the Local Board did not follow the charter system agreement,” the decision states. “This Board finds the Local Board’s failure to do so constitutes its actions as being arbitrary and capricious because the decision on who to RIF may have ended in a different result if the proper procedures had been followed.”
McDaniel couldn’t be reached for comment. In a statement issued through his spokesman, McDaniel said he doesn’t believe the state board has sufficient legal standing to make their decision.
McDaniel also said his system had anticipated making arguments before the state board. It never got that chance.
“Unfortunately, this continues the pattern of the state over the past eight months of making decisions without giving our local community the chance to be heard,” McDaniel said in his release.
“At this time, we are still considering the direction we must take as a school system as we seek to serve the children of Floyd County under the duress of dwindling state funding and increased state intrusion into the operation of our local schools,” McDaniel added.
We have preliminarily reviewed the recent decision and we do not believe the state board has sufficient legal ground to take this action. As was noted in the decision by the state board, Floyd County Schools offered all Fair Dismissal procedures within its policies and provided Appellant notice for a hearing ‘pursuant to Georgia’s Fair Dismissal Act’. The decision notice clearly states that the Floyd County Board of Education provided due process rights under the Fair Dismissal Act.
At this time, we are still considering the direction we must take as a school system as we seek to serve the children of Floyd County under the duress of dwindling state funding and increased state intrusion into the operation of our local schools.”
“Today’s State Board decision stating that charter schools and systems cannot waive the Fair Dismissal Act is a huge win for all teachers,” stated Mike McGonigle, general counsel for the Georgia Association of Educators (GAE). McGonigle was referring to the reversal of the Floyd County Board of Education’s decision that fair dismissal due process rights could be waived by charter schools.
The case involved Gilda Day, a GAE member, who worked for the Floyd County Schools, a charter school system. Ms. Day was appealing a non-renewal of her contract for the 2013-14 school year.
The key to the decision was the State Board’s interpretation of the charter school statute, specifically the term “civil rights.” An excerpt from the actual decision states:
“[, the] Local Board contends that since the Fair Dismissal Act, O.C.G.A. § 20-2-940 et seg., is within Title 20, that it is not subject to the Fair Dismissal Act. …, the Local Board's assertion is without merit. O.C.G.A. § 20-2-2065(b)(5) provides that charter systems are "[s]ubject to all federal, state, and local rules, regulations, court orders, and statutes relating to civil rights." The Fair Dismissal Act provides due process rights to certain school employees, which is a civil right. Thus, O.C.G.A. § 20-2-2065(a) cannot be read so broadly as to violate the due process rights of school employees who are entitled to due process.”
McGonigle says the importance of this decision cannot be overemphasized in this new environment of charter-mania and he points out that GAE led the fight against the initial removal of fair dismissal and for its eventual restoration.
“What fair dismissal means is the right for teachers, administrators, and support professionals to simply teach children in a learning environment that is free from the fear of retaliation and at-will termination. Contrary to what opponents have always said, fair dismissal does not provide lifelong employment opportunities for incompetent educators. Without fair dismissal protection, teachers are at will employees who could be subjected to reprimand and dismissal based on false or frivolous, unsubstantiated complaints or decisions. Fair dismissal does not protect bad teachers. On the contrary, it protects good teachers from discriminatory, biased reprimands, and unfair treatment,” he said.
Day’s appeal was drafted by Julie Oinonen and her partner Mario Williams of Williams Oinonen LLC. "Providing teachers with procedural due process is a constitutional right and essential to maintain quality teachers in an increasingly difficult and underpaid profession” said Oinonen. “Under the Constitution, the government cannot take away life, liberty or a property interest without due process---it is a constitutional right that not even charter systems are permitted to waive. What due process does is provide teachers with a fair hearing: the right to notice and opportunity to be heard so that a superintendent or administrator cannot unfairly or indiscriminately fire a teacher without just cause, for discriminatory purposes, or simply a personal vendetta. Gilda Day's courage and bravery has resulted in a victory for teachers throughout our state and a win for Georgia public education that is increasingly under attack by big money, outside interests who seek corporate takeover of our Georgia public schools."