By Curt Yeomans
The Clayton County Board of Education showed signs of resistance to the district's plan to overhaul its policies dealing with the rights of educators during a called meeting Saturday.
The board currently has two educator's rights policies. One is the Clayton County Education Association-backed Memorandum of Educator's Rights. The other is the Metro Association of Classroom Educators-influenced Teacher's Bill of Rights.
A plan to repeal the Memorandum of Rights, while retooling the Teacher's Bill of Rights to include elements of both policies, received a less than warm welcome from board members.
"I can't support this proposal," said member Lois Baines-Hunter. "I believe in unions... Well, teacher's associations or whatever you want to call them. I've received several phone calls from teachers about this. My constituents called me, and they said this is what they want. Are we elected to do what our constituents want us to do, or what other people want us to do?"
The revisions for the Bill of Rights were an "information only" item and therefore the board was not scheduled to vote on it. The board postponed its vote on repealing the Memorandum of Rights until the July 28 board meeting. The request to merge the policies comes while the school system is under scrutiny by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools
(SACS) to reform its school board, or lose accreditation. SACS officials have said they will revoke the district's accreditation if nine mandates for improvement are not met by Sept. 1. One of those mandates is to rid the school board of outside influences, such as those that can be exerted by powerful teachers associations.
Board member Rod Johnson triggered the postponement of the vote on the Memorandum of Rights by saying he wanted to see if there were other policies in place that dealt with topics slated for
removal from the Teacher's Bill of Rights.
He was particularly keen to ask Julie Lewis, the school system's legal counsel, questions about removing language which dealt with a teacher's right to have representation during a tribunal. Lewis told him the hearings and tribunal policy already gave teachers that right, but Johnson acted as if he did not know what the policy said, and asked Lewis to bring a copy of the policy to the board so members could read it.
However, Johnson served on the board's now defunct policy committee for the first two and half years of his term. During that time, the committee reviewed all of the board's policies in response to SACS' 2003 investigation of the school system.
The school system's plan for the policies brings up an old argument that dates back to March 2007.
Lewis asked board members to consider revising the Teacher's Bill of Rights to become a new policy, which would be a merger of the two existing policies, and is based solely on Georgia and U.S. law, instead of the desires of teachers associations.
The revised policy would be renamed "Professional Personnel Working Conditions," to be more in line with Georgia School Boards Association policies.
It is not the first time someone has wanted to see the policies merged.
Both the Teacher's Bill of Rights and the Memorandum of Educator's Rights were proposed to the Policy Committee in early 2007. Committee member Rod Johnson decided the policy proposals were so similar they should be merged into one proposal under the guidance of the school system's legal counsel.
Former Board member Norreese Haynes, the sponsor of the Teacher's Bill of Rights and MACE's executive director, expressed an interest in meeting with CCEA officials to discuss a merger. However, the CCEA executive board voted unanimously against merging their proposal with the Teacher's Bill of Rights. The board of education eventually approved both policies.
But, CCEA's stance on merging the policies has not changed.
"Repealing of this Memorandum of Educator's Rights, and previous retaliatory actions toward the presidents of CCEA and GAE, as well as other ... policies restricting the constitutional rights of free
association, will be dealt with in a legal manner if needed," said CCEA President Sid Chapman, in a letter hand-delivered on Saturday to board members and Corrective Superintendent John Thompson.
Chapman later said, in an interview, the school system has been retaliating against CCEA since February, when the association's executive board called for the resignations of Johnson, Baines-Hunter,
Haynes and board member Sandra Scott. Chapman added that CCEA wants to work with the district, but "it's a two-way street."
Lewis said there was no prejudice involved, though. "We took provisions in both policies that were based in law... and put them in one policy that dealt with professional personnel working conditions," she said. "This was not directed at any group, or association."