Georgia Teachers Claim|They Were Strong-Armed

     ATLANTA (CN) – The Dekalb County School District dramatically moved up the deadline for teachers to sign their contracts for the coming year and threatened to fine them if they later resigned to take other jobs, a lawsuit claims.
     Teachers Chayka Bettis and Leslie Hein claim the district mandated these new requirements by adding a provision to teacher contracts that is not only a breach of fair dealing and god faith, but also an unlawful restraint of trade.
     In their complaint, which was filed in DeKalb County State Court, Bettis and Hein say the prevailing practice in public schools throughout Georgia is to issue contracts to teachers by May 15 of each year, as required under the state code.
     O.C.G.A §20-2-11 requires local school systems to either tender contracts to teachers or provide them with a written notice of nonrenewal by the May 15 deadline. If the district does not provide the appropriate notice of non-renewal, the contract is automatically renewed for the following year.
     The statute also provides educators the right to decline employment by notifying the district in writing no later than June 1, the plaintiffs say.
     In practice, Bettis and Hein say because Georgia law prohibits teachers from being under contract with two districts at the same time, the period between the contract offer and signing date gives teachers the opportunity to choose between potential employers, advance their careers and find positions that simply pay them more money.
     And they say the system has worked well, allowing a “wave of educators” throughout Georgia to resign from their current school district and accept a new one elsewhere.
     “Unfortunately this past year, Defendants chose to take action that sought to curb this natural, laissez faire flow, stemming freedom of contract and fair trade,” the plaintiffs say.
     Bettis and Hein say instead of adhering to the accepted practice of contract renewals, the Dekalb County School District, its board members and superintendent presented teachers with their proposed contract in early March, and set a deadline of April 4 for them to sign them – dates that fall well before when other districts normally advertise their openings and six weeks prior to the statutory mandate for notice of non-renewal.
     “Defendants then strong-armed DCSD educators by publically telling them that if they resigned to leave for another job, they would be penalized with $750.00 fine as punishment, and they would be reported to the Georgia Professional Standards Commission (PSC) for sanctions which would put their certification at risk,” the plaintiffs say.
     The teachers claim this is the “first time ever” that the school district included an unlawful provision in their educator contracts, that the penalty is a significant hardship on a teacher salary, and a threat to their certification is an even larger risk to their financial livelihood.
     The complaints states, “For teachers throughout DeKalb, this was perceived as yet another attack on public education and public school teachers that destroys morale and is driving educators out of the profession.”
     Bettis and Hein seek consequential damages and $750 in liquidated damages resulting from the DeKalb County School District’s use of the illegal penalty.
     They are represented by Julie J. Oinonen of Williams Oinonen LLC in Atlanta.

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