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.
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. It is a sad and scary day when Superintendent’s decision to appeal not only wastes taxpayer’s money through expensive litigation but now possibly threatens the rights of educators throughout our state of Georgia.”
Unite in the fight—if you are an organization or an educator that wants to be involved in protecting public education from attack and protecting our teachers, please review the copy of the brief filed on behalf of our courageous educator. Questions? Contact 404-654-0288.