Georgia Education Lawyer Julie Oinonen is representing DeKalb County teachers and Georgia Association of Educators (GAE) members in a suit against DeKalb County School District. The lawsuit alleges strong-arm bully tactics by the school district. See the Courthouse News article on it here.
Good Georgia Lawyer contends that this issue is part of the ongoing war on teachers and public education that is driving educators out of the profession and further destroying teacher morale. Each year, educators move to different parts of Georgia transferring to other school districts for any number of reasons such as professional career opportunities, financial, health, or family reasons. The plaintiffs in the lawsuit had to move due to very important family needs. They notified their principals and gave the earliest possible notice. Then they helped find new hires to replace their position, thus causing absolutely no financial loss to the School District.
The District bullied the teachers by threatening their teaching certification which all teachers need to keep in good standing in order to teach and maintain gainful employment to provide for their families. The District claimed that it was a sanctionable action by the PSC (the Professional Standards Commission, the regulatory body for teacher certification.) The trouble is that wasn’t true and the District knew it. Paul Shaw, Director of the PSC had already advised them that for teachers to resign prior to June 1st would not be considered a sanctionable violation of the code of ethics.
DeKalb County School District is one of the few districts in Georgia that has also started to include something called a “liquidated damages provision” that penalizes teachers if they resign their contract. This is a bad thing that is about to spread like wildfire if Courts don’t put a stop to it. It makes sense that Districts wish to prevent teachers from resigning during the school year. But what doesn’t make sense is to create an unlawful penalty provision that stops the ethical, conscientious teachers who need to move for financial, health, family, or professional reasons to other school districts. It creates an unlawful restraint of trade and hinders free market capitalism. One of our basic Constitutional rights and privileges as Americans is the freedom to be able to move about our state with our families and work where we want to. The government tying hard working teachers hands to prevent them to be able to do so is simply un-American.
A contract for teachers ends at the close of a school year. For Georgia teachers to resign without putting their families at significant financial risk, they first have to be offered a new contract with another district. Otherwise they risk having zero job period and not even being able to qualify for unemployment benefits. So, for a teacher to resign, they need to know they’ve got another offer on the table somewhere else. The trouble with DeKalb is they have started strong-arming teachers into not resigning at all, by making them sign a contract very early in the school year (before other Districts have made job offers) and then threatening them with a $750.00 penalty provision if they do tender early notice of resignation. Good teachers who simply wanted to make a move to Fulton, Gwinnett, or another part of Georgia were threatened with the penalty if they resigned after signing their contract on April 4th, way too soon for most of them to have been offered a contract somewhere else.
Now $750.00 may not seem a lot of money to some, but to the average Joe or Jane school teacher, this has financially devastating consequences for most educators who rely on every penny of their paychecks to pay the mortgage and other bills each month. Teachers don’t make a lot of money period. Consequently, this new penalty provision has been more salt in the wounds for teachers in Georgia who continue to be mercilessly under attack at every turn.