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Hurricane day issue lingers

By Greg Gelpi

A disputed day, which raised talk of legal action, remains unresolved as Clayton County school officials take a wait and see approach.

The Clayton County school system along with many systems in metro Atlanta were closed Sept. 7 as remnants of Hurricane Frances blew through the area.

"It is our position that we are not going to charge anybody for this day unless we have to by state law," Assistant Superintendent Jackie Hubbert said, adding that teachers are 190-day employees.

Hubbert and then Chief Financial Officer Lee Davis sent a memo out to school personnel later that month stating that those who called in or who came in before taking the day off would be "forgiven," while those who didn't would be required to either make up the day or be charged for a personal day or sick day.

Although it's clear skies today with unseasonably warm temperatures, inclement weather could strike the county between now and the end of the school year, Hubbert said. The school system remains in a holding pattern, much like other counties in the state, and will decide how to proceed toward the end of the year based on the total number of days that were canceled due to inclement weather.

At this point, there are no "penalties" for any teachers, she said.

According to Kirk Englehardt, spokesman for the state Department of Education, there is a distinction between canceled days for students and canceled days for teachers.

"The stance of the state has been that if you're under a contract for 190 days then you're supposed to work 190 days," Englehardt said. "It's not as restrictive as people might think."

Although missed days must be made up by teachers, there is some "flexibility," he said. For instance, teachers could work an extra hour a day to make up for the inclement weather day.

There is more flexibility built into the school calendar for students, Englehardt said. Students are required to attend 180 days of class.

"The state allows for the school system on its own accord to opt not to make up up to four days if the school calendar ends on a Friday," Englehardt said.

School in Clayton County does end on a Friday, so the Clayton County Board of Education can opt not to make the hurricane day if it decides to do so.

Some teachers reported to work Sept. 7 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, Sid Chapman, president of CCEA said at the time.

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.

Michael Kramer, the general counsel for the Georgia Association of Educators, the parent organization for CCEA, said in November that he hopes the confusion from the "act of God" can be worked out internally, but that he would consider legal action for breach of contract if it hadn't been resolved.

"Our position in the general counsel's office is that no teacher should be penalized," said Kramer at the time. "It is in the power and discretion of the school board to do the right thing."

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