Hurricane day could draw legal action

By Greg Gelpi

Some teachers have been "forgiven," while others have not.

The remnants of Hurricane Frances are still being felt by teachers in Clayton County, as the Clayton County Education Association charges inequitable treatment in the system's handling of the school closing.

Clayton County schools closed Sept. 7 due to the inclement weather brought by the hurricane. The school closing produced more of a mess than the weather itself, Sid Chapman, president of CCEA, said.

Some teachers reported to work and were told to go home, some called in and were told not to report to work, some stayed home after hearing media reports of school closings and still others remained home after co-workers spread the word of the closings, he said.

According to a memo sent from the school system to teachers Sept. 21, those who reported to work or called into work are forgiven, but those who did not will be docked a personal day or a vacation day or must make up the day by adding a workday at the end of the school calendar.

"Because television and radio personnel broadcast different messages, there was some confusion about the status of school closings," the memo from Assistant Superintendent Jackie Hubbert and then Chief Financial Officer Lee Davis stated. "Site supervisors please use this memorandum when advising staff members about the need to make up a day."

The Clayton County Public Schools Web site lists local television and radio stations to turn to in case of inclement weather. School closing information is broadcast and disseminated through those media, but personnel who followed these messages Sept. 7 could be penalized. The messages broadcast changed throughout that morning, first announcing all schools were closed, then telling staff to report and finally telling only 12-month employees to report.

"Our position in the general counsel's office is that no teacher should be penalized," said Michael Kramer, general counsel for the Georgia Association of Educators, the parent organization for CCEA. "It is in the power and discretion of the school board to do the right thing."

Teachers shouldn't be penalized for the school system sending out "multiple inconsistent mixed messages," Kramer said.

"Under those circumstances, everyone should be excused, instead of the school system trying to pick and choose who to penalize and who not to penalize," he said. "I just think the school system set up a poor way of handling the situation and affected the morale of the school system."

Although Kramer said he hopes the confusion from the "act of God" can be worked out internally, he will consider legal action for breach of contract after the start of the year if it hasn't been resolved by then.

"I just don't see any justification for anyone not doing the sensible thing," Kramer said, calling it "unfair and inconsistent." "It's silly frankly to punish teachers during hurricane conditions and severe driving conditions."

Although Chapman has brought the issue to the school board monthly since the day in question, the board doesn't respond immediately to questions posed during the public comment session. Attempts to get comment from the school system were unsuccessful.