Articles Posted in School Law

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atkinsonatkinson.jpgSuperintendent Cheryl Atkinson just resigned as Superintendent amid much controversy.

The AJC reports on her resignation stating that the District is currently on probation after SACS the accreditation agency found evidence of fiscal mismanagement and unethical practices.

The recent lawsuit against her was dismissed after our client who had been non-renewed due to a reduction in force was rehired by the District.

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Good Georgia Lawyer regularly handles education issues, student due process and disciplinary hearings, and teacher/administrator employment matters. Recently, we were very grateful for this testimonial that came from the mother of a son who was being violently assaulted as a bullying victim. Here is a thank you letter she wrote to us:

“This is a testimony of the level of of assistance I received when it came to my son. I could never thank you enough because when I came to you I was at a crossroads about my sons future in middle school as well as in High school because of his issues with bullying . He had been bullied since sixth (6th) grade because of questions regarding his sexuality and because he was coming from a private school setting. My son had been jumped and assaulted on numerous occasions but also threatened because of his diversity and also because of his unfamiliarity to a public school setting. Julie, you assisted me with this issue and further checked to make sure that his transition was easy when it came to a different setting and also a high school setting.

Unfortunately , that wasn’t the case, even going to a different Dekalb County High School, because my son was different and had been labeled as “NOT” gang affiliated he was targeted yet, again. Not because of his sexuality but because he was fortunate. In the midst of all of this I was forced to turn to you (Julie} once again. My son had been jumped by gangs on two (2) separate occasions . . . My son suffers from chronic asthma and was seriously injured and a victim of a brutal assault assaulted twice in one (1) week. Thankfully you (Julie) were at my aid, yet again. and advocated for my son’s rights and made sure that justice was met on his behalf.

Today, my son is in a diverse high school setting thanks to you. Julie, I can never thank you enough because your true passion is in education and serving and empowering our youth. Julie Oinonen, you are truly a blessing! [My son] and I thank you from the bottom of our heart for all that you do, and for caring!!!”
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Senator Jones.jpgConcerning the recent lawsuit against DeKalb County School District, Senator Emanuel Jones, leader of the DeKalb’s Senate delegation commented on his concerns about the school district’s failure to respond to open records requests: “When they’re not responding, it just begs the question as to, ‘What are they hiding? What are they covering up?'” he says, “And it’s going to lead to more questions and it’s going to lead to more concerns from the public and all the other stakeholders.”

The AJC featured the story here and WSBTV’s Erica Byfield interviewed Senator Jones on the evening news in a piece that can be read here entitled “Lawsuit Raises Concerns About DeKalb Schools Corruption” The video can be seen here.

The news story quoted our law firm attorneys stating:

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Good Georgia Education Lawyer sued Superintendent Cheryl Atkinson and DeKalb County School District on behalf of our client for violations of the Open Records Act in relation to a fair dismissal hearing where a graduation coach was non-renewed due to a reduction in force.

The complaint alleged that Defendant Superintendent Cheryl Atkinson thwarted the Georgia Open Records Act by withholding the production of public documents: text messages contained within her DeKalb County School District issued cellular phone. The complaint also alleged that the Superintendent made representations that she would be willing to offer Plaintiff a job and 11 (eleven) other of Plaintiff counsel’s clients who had been “RIF’d” (laid off due to a reduction in force) in exchange for Plaintiff being willing to withdraw her Georgia Open Records Act demand for the Superintendent’s text messages.

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teacher.JPGGood Georgia Lawyer was pleased to save the job of a Clayton County Public School teacher who had his contract non-renewed. Fortunately, we were able to aggressively intervene and the school system rescinded the non-renewal of the teacher, placing him back into the school system and awarding him all his retroactive back pay.

Said this teacher:

“My family appreciates your hard work and dedication to the case. You have brought so much joy and dignity back to our household and professional life. You worked hard and gave it your all to bring justice to our case. As a result, many will gain because you made it okay to fight for what is right!

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businessman.JPGGood Georgia Lawyer was pleased to save the job of a university administrator who worked for a college within the University System of Georgia. The University System of Georgia is the third largest university system in the United States and enrolls more than 310,000 students, employs more than 40,000 faculty and staff, and the combined annual operating budgets of all 35 institutions is over $6 billion.

Our client was a university professional who had a long history of working within the university system and had been wrongfully terminated. Fortunately, Williams Oinonen LLC was able to intervene and the university system rescinded the termination, placing him back into his position.

Stated our client:

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attorney.JPGWilliams Oinonen LLC was very gratified with the courage the Tribunal showed in making the right decision to reject Superintendent Cheryl Atkinson’s recommendation to terminate the contract of an educator in DeKalb County School District through a reduction in force.

While the educator ended up accepting a very attractive offer at a nearby school district so the Tribunal’s decision did not end up having to be ruled on by the Board, Ms. Oinonen hopes that the DeKalb County Board of Education will take note as to how the Reduction in Force is being applied, ask the right questions and demand accountability from the Superintendent in the future.

Regarding Ms. Oinonen’s legal representation, Mr. Lynch stated:

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tribunal.JPGIn a recent Fair Dismissal Hearing, the Tribunal published its “Findings of Fact and Recommendations to the DeKalb County Board of Education” stating that it “rejects the recommendation to terminate the contract” of a media specialist educator based upon the Reduction in Force plan.

Ms. Oinonen successfully argued that Dekalb County School District’s (DCSD’s) implementation of the Reduction in Force (RIF) plan is illegal and a violation of the new law, OCGA 20-2-948. This legislation, recently enacted in May 2012 holds it illegal to consider length of service as the primary factor in a RIF. Rather school districts must consider “performance of the educator” as the primary factor in implementing a reduction in force.

Ms. Oinonen argued that this is exactly what DCSD is violating although they denied it— using a seniority “first in last out system” by claiming that everyone is equal because everyone supposedly has an “overall” satisfactory performance evaluation.

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principal.JPGGood Georgia Lawyer was pleased to save an Assistant Principal’s job in one of the largest school district’s in Georgia.

Regarding Julie Oinonen, attorney at Williams Oinonen LLC, the Assistant Principal stated the following:

“First and foremost Julie was honest & attentive with me from our first meeting concerning my case. In addition, she was easily accessible by phone or e-mail throughout the duration of my case. She is a true professional. In the end, she protected my name, reputation, and secured my contract for the upcoming school year. Thanks!!!”

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teacherstudent.JPGIt is that time of year again: a time that can be very difficult for teachers in Georgia who have recently received a letter notifying them that their contract has been non-renewed. As many teachers already know, the law in Georgia protects teachers who are in their fourth year within the same local school district. The law states that once a teacher accepts a school year contract for the fourth consecutive school year from the same local school district, that teacher may not be demoted or non-renewed unless for a set of specific reasons. And if demotion or non-renewal occurs, those teachers are entitled to procedural due process which includes a non-renewal hearing. Good Georgia Lawyer has written extensively about teacher rights so to learn more about your rights to a non-renewal hearing, we recommend you read our article here. Also you can read here. And here as well.

The grounds for suspension or termination are listed in O.C.G.A. § 20-2-940 and include such reasons as: incompetency, insubordination, immorality, willful neglect of duties, inciting students to violate laws, failure to maintain educational training, reduction of staff due to loss of students or cancellation of programs, or any other good and sufficient cause.

Regarding the “reduction of staff” grounds for non-renewal, one small improvement to the law happened during this year’s legislative session 2012. As a result of so many teachers facing layoffs due to our difficult economy, legislators added language which states that if non-renewal occurs due to reduction in staff (often known as “Reduction In Force” (RIF) ) due to no fault or performance issue, the local administration must specify in writing “that the termination or suspension is due to no fault or performance issues” of the employee. See: 2012 Georgia Laws Act 707 (S.B. 153).

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