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www.gae.org/know | 13  Victory in Floyd County “The State Board’s 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 Ms. 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 “subject 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. Ms. Day’s appeal was drafted by Ms. Julie Oinonen and her partner Mr. 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. The full text of the decision can be downloaded at http://pv.gae2.org/issues/ fairdismissaldecision.pdf The creation of the Floyd County Charter System is a result of the Georgia Legislature passing SB 39 in 2007, also known as the Charter Systems Act which allowed school systems like Floyd County to become a charter system in exchange for accountability. GAE supported the passage of this legislation because we did not believe it waived educators’ civil rights to due process under the state’s Fair Dismissal Act. In fact, GAE issued a position paper during the original drafting of the bill urging lawmakers to remove the word “autonomy” from the earlier drafted versions of the bill language affording school level governance with sole “autonomy” in personnel decisions without accountability. Lawmakers agreed to remove this objectionable word from the language of the bill and ensured that charter systems would still be subject to the civil rights of due process thus protecting educators’ rights under the Fair Dismissal Act. See the GAE Promise in Action. Real wins for real members. Legal www.gae.org


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