17. Whistle Blower Protection Needed For All Educators

TIME magazine awarded its annual person of the year honor to several courageous individuals who risked their careers by publicizing the misconduct of executive officials.
Colleen Rowley of the FBI reported the mishandling of the 9-11 investigation, and Cynthia Cooper of WorldCom revealed a billion dollar debt that was not reported to investors.
However, if the two had been employees of Georgia’s public schools they would have been subjected to dismissal, harassment, demotion, suspension, and reprisals because Georgia does not have a public employee whistle blower protection law. Without such protection, school employees are reluctant to report allegations of mismanagement and misappropriation of state, federal, and local funds.

Educators are under increased scrutiny and are expected to report incidences of misconduct and violations of law.
In fact, the Gwinnett County District Attorney said, “To not report a felony is to commit a felony.”
Many administrators instruct education employees to ignore such problems because a report might endanger public trust of school officials.
Gwinnett County school officials did not report over 90% of the student discipline problems handled by teachers and Education Support Professionals (ESP) last year as required by the Department of Education.
Atlanta City Schools did not report a single student discipline problem in more than ½ of their schools.
A second year kindergarten teacher in southeast Georgia was assigned three students above the maximum class size and told she would be fired if she reported the violation to DOE.

GAE sponsored legislation to correct this problem during the 2003 legislative session.
SB 254, sponsored by Senator Rene’ Kemp (Hinesville) and co-sponsored by Senators Bill Hamrick (Douglasville); Michael Meyer Von Bremen (Albany); and Joey Brush (Martinez), was unanimously approved by the Senate Special Judiciary Committee, Senate Rules Committee, State Senate, and House Education Committee.
However, the House Rules Committee did not approve the legislation for action by representatives.
GAE supports passage of SB 254 during the 2004 legislative session.

SB 254, the Whistle Blower Protection Act for Public School Employees, would entitle educators to disclose violations of law, rule, regulation, ordinance, or policy that pose a risk to public health, safety, or the environment without suffering adverse employment consequences or fear of reprisal.
The educator would be entitled to damages awarded through legal action if the school board or administrator retaliates.
The burden to prove the retaliation is on the employee.
Passage of SB 254 is not an instant tenure act as reported by the Georgia School Boards Association. This necessary protection for school employees will help to ensure the safe and proper operation of our schools and improve the public trust.

Consider the case of James Hope, a Gwinnett County educator who disclosed inconsistencies with the high stakes student Gateway testing program.
Gwinnett County school officials subjected Hope to harassment, retaliation, and even dismissal.
His computer and telephone records were confiscated; he was reported to the Georgia Professional Standards Commission that twice recommended that his teaching certificate be suspended; he was subjected to police investigation and threatened with dismissal.
Hope, a former Teacher of the Year at Centerville Elementary School, had his teaching career jeopardized for having the courage to report testing irregularities and problems for students.
Hope believed it was his moral obligation to disclose the ill affects that high stakes tests were having on his students.

Educators must be encouraged to report violations of law, policy, and regulation without fear of harassment and retaliation.
Passage of SB 254 would only penalize local boards of education guilty of taking action against employees who, in good faith and honesty, report such violations.

Local school boards are being provided more flexibility in funding and policy decisions. Legislators are allocating funds to local boards of education designated for lower class sizes; to employ education specialists (counselors, psychologists, social workers, speech pathologists and audiologists, and media personnel); add intervention programs to assist students not achieving at grade level; and many other programs. School boards acting in good faith with state funds and policy would not be affected with passage of SB 254. In order to bring accountability to school systems, SB 254 must be enacted.