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Victory in Clarke County  Facing termination for violating a school district policy, the GAE member resigned in lieu of termination upon advice of his network attorney. The member applied for unemployment compensation. At the unemployment compensation hearing, nobody from the school district appeared on behalf of the school district to testify as to why the employee would have been terminated. The member testified that he resigned in lieu of termination. By resigning, the member explained to the hearing officer that he would be listed as being an unpaid, absent employee for the remainder of the school year, would not have the incident on his employment record, and would not have to explain why he left in the middle of the school year. Georgia has a strong public policy favoring payment of unemployment benefits to persons unemployed through no fault of their own; and the burden is on the employer urging a disqualification for benefits. Resigning for personal reasons that are not connected to work is one such disqualification. Despite the member’s clear testimony, the hearing officer ruled the resignation was for “personal” reasons and not for “work related” reasons. In reviewing the case, GAE Legal believed the law to be very different and, therefore, a decision was made to appeal to superior court. As the Clarke County Superior Court noted, “although there may be personal benefits to resigning instead of being terminated, the resignation is still a work-related involuntary separation.” Exactly. The Court also noted other appellate cases in which a teacher was entitled to benefits after resigning (Troup County Board of Education v. Daniel, 191 Ga. App. 370 (1989) where the teacher who failed to maintain her certification and was advised that a resignation would be more beneficial to her than dismissal was considered discharged and entitled to benefits; Elizabeth v. Caldwell, 160 Ga. App. 549 (1981) resignation in lieu of termination is involuntary and employee entitled to unemployment benefits). The school district did not appeal. 14 | KNOW • Volume 12 Issue 1 Victory in Dougherty County The Governor’s Office of Student Achievement flagged West Town Elementary as a “school of severe concern” and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation questioned the GAE member. After the investigation, the GAE member was accused of “cheating” on the 2009 CRCT test by providing “visual signals” to students to change wrong answers to right answers. The PSC’s case relied on testimony of an admitted liar that was granted immunity from prosecution in exchange for testimony against the GAE member. Numerous other witnesses credibly testified on behalf of the educator that they did not observe the GAE member providing “visual signals” to any students during test administration. In addition, the administrative law judge found the GAE member’s testimony to be credible and consistent throughout the entire ordeal. Therefore, the administrative law judge found there was no violation of the code of ethics. Victory in Dougherty County The GAE member was the principal of Northside Elementary during the administration of the 2009 CRCT. The Governor’s Office of Student Achievement flagged the school after analysis revealed that 52.2% of the answer sheets from test takers contained an exceptional number of erasures of wrong answers and choices of right answers. The Professional Standards Commission alleged the principal to have suggested that test examiners and proctors prompt students to review wrong answer choices by asking individual students “Is this what I taught you?” A statement of this kind by a test examiner or proctor is impermissible and violates standardized testing protocol. The PSC recommended revocation and the educator filed an appeal through her GAE network attorney to contest the allegations at a hearing before an administrative law judge. The ALJ found that evidence adduced in support of the allegation the educator encouraged examiners and proctors to encourage students to change wrong answer was not consistent and was found to lack credibility. In addition, GAE’s network attorney subpoenaed several witnesses to support a finding that the educator did not encourage test examiners and proctors to identify wrong answers for erasure by students. Therefore, the ALJ reversed the PSC’s recommendation to revoke the educator’s certificate. Victory in Clayton County In an enormous due process win for all GAE members and for GAE as an organization, the Georgia Court of Appeals ruled that school districts will be held to strict statutory compliance under the state’s Fair Dismissal Act due process and appeal rights procedures. The Fair Dismissal Act provides that, “the local board shall render its decision at the hearing or within five days thereafter. Where the hearing is before a tribunal, the tribunal shall file its findings and recommendations with the local board within five days of the conclusion of the hearing, and the local board shall render its decision thereon within ten days after the receipt of the transcript.” In addition, the teacher appeals statute mandates that “the local board shall notify the parties in writing of the decision and of their right to appeal the decision to the State Board of Education and shall clearly describe the procedure and requirements for such an appeal.” In this case, the local board of education did not render a written decision with the time period prescribed by statute, nor did it notify the educator of her rights to appeal as statutorily mandated. Under these circumstances, the Court ruled the educator is entitled to receive their job back because the school district did not play by the rule. The Court of Appeals also made clear that the statutes must be strictly construed even in the absence of proving injury to the teacher. Local boards of education will be penalized for a failure to strictly comply with the statute’s notice requirements regardless of injury. Clayton County Board of Education v. Burnedetta Wilmer, Georgia Court of Appeals, January 24, 2014, Case Number A13A2088. Click here to read the decision http://www. gaappeals.us/ The Georgia Association of Educators (GAE) funds more than $800,000 per year in legal defense fees and funding for member cases. A typical school board or PSC hearing can cost up to $12,000—and sometimes more—if further appeals are made through the court system.


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