GAE Letter-to-the-Editor

The following is a Letter-to-the-Editor rebuttal to a recent article by Judge Marvin S. Arrington Sr. that appeared in the Fulton County Daily Report. The "Report" is Fulton County's official legal organ and Georgia's leading source for legal news and information.

Editor in Chief, Ed Bean
Fulton County Daily Report

Dear Daily Report:

In his “At Issue” column dated July 20, 2010 by Judge Marvin S. Arrington Sr. proposes that the General Assembly should explore the concept of educational malpractice as a new method of holding public school employees accountable for alleged misdeeds.

It is a mistake to focus exclusively on the real or perceived failings of teachers and administrators. Education is not something that is passively absorbed by sitting in a classroom. It takes serious effort by parents and students. If the legislature were to review any such proposal, the legal duty of parenting (“failure to parent”) and the student’s duty to learn (“failure to learn”) should also be examined.

Judge Arrington also suggests that permitting a private cause of action would be a step towards creating a new type of trust between schools and parents. I would agree that fear can be a motivator; however, trust based on fear of litigation will not inspire a nurturing learning environment and it doesn’t serve public education. Policy makers are finally realizing that instilling the fear of not making Adequate Yearly Progress and placing an over-emphasis on standardized testing have created conditions in which allegations of cheating are more likely to occur. Such is the power of law and its unintended consequences. Simply stated, litigation is not a reasonable response to address issues facing public education.

We wholeheartedly agree with Judge Arrington’s observation that “we still rely on good teachers and effective teaching in our classrooms.” However, before the General Assembly explores educational malpractice we would suggest the following: fully funding public education; saying “no” to furloughs; saying “yes” to due process protections (including third-party neutrals) for all school employees; eliminate tax cuts for big corporate interests; get tough about lower class size and adequate planning time. We could even start with something simple thing like mandating restroom breaks. Improving the working conditions for Georgia’s dedicated public school employees is an excellent place to build trust between our communities and the faces on the front line.

Mike McGonigle
Legal Services Director
Georgia Association of Educators