The Georgia State Department of Education’s recent ruling that charter systems must comply with the Fair Dismissal Act was an enormous victory for Gilda Day and every educator throughout Georgia. Nevertheless, Northwest Georgia Superintendent Jeff McDaniel and his Floyd County local board’s choice to appeal this statewide decision by arguing that no civil right applies single-handedly places at risk the rights of all Georgia educators in threatening to strip vital constitutional protections throughout the state.
The key to the State Board of Education teacher victory 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.”
Mike McGonigle, Legal Services Director of the Georgia Association of Educators 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.