GAE Member Wins Certification Upgrade

“I am truly grateful for GAE’s assistance and legal representation which resulted in a win for both GAE and myself.” 

Legal cases often come against steep odds. Sports analogies abound. Football: down by five points, time running out, heave the 60-yard Hail Mary pass. Baseball: bottom of the ninth, two outs, the count is 3-2. Basketball: down by two points, as the clock expires, shoot the half court jumper. Or a homespun analogy as we in the south might say: something in the milk doesn’t look right. But if there is a member that needs help, GAE legal services will not be deterred by long odds. Consider this case, but before diving in, let’s learn a little bit about our faithful GAE member.

The GAE member (who wishes to remain anonymous) is a dedicated public educator that has worked for 24 years to improve the lives and education of Georgia’s students. The member worked as a classroom teacher, varsity sports coach, school-based administrator, school principal and most recently and presently, in transportation. In addition to his administrative duties, he has directed several student focused programs in the community. As a school sponsor, the member not only worked locally, but on a national level to promote school safety and non-violence. With a strong background like that, what could go wrong? Plenty - read on.

In 2009 when the GAE member enrolled with a nationally recognized online university there was no PSC requirement that such degrees be conferred from accredited institutions. As a result of delays beyond anyone’s control, the member sought and was granted several extensions to complete his doctoral degree. After years of frustration and financial hardship, the member completed his doctoral degree in October 2020. Everything for this member was finally falling into place. Then he applied for a certification upgrade.

Unknown to our member, the PSC promulgated a new version of the certificate upgrade rule in December 2010 that included a “legacy period.”

A legacy period is provided to protect the interests of educators actively pursuing an advanced degree at or near the original effective date of this rule (December 15, 2010). In order to upgrade a certificate under previous upgrade requirements, educators must meet two conditions: they must have been enrolled in an advanced degree program at a GaPSC- accepted accredited institution by July 15, 2011; and they must complete the same program – with the same degree objective and major and at the same institution – by the date specified in item 1, 2 or 3 below. Note: the term “enrolled” is defined as admitted to a program and actively participating in course work...

  1. Doctoral degree programs started on or before July 15, 2011, must have been completed by December 15, 2016.

The PSC applied the above-refenced rule and denied the member’s initial application for certification upgrade without providing a thorough analysis for their decision. That’s when he called GAE Legal Services. And we’re glad he did!

After reviewing his case, we decided to appeal the decision through the lens of an administrative rule waiver or a variance when “strict application of rules can lead to unreasonable, uneconomical, and unintended results in particular instances.”[1]

The GAE network attorney skillfully pointed out several crucial facts the PSC may have overlooked: at the time of he completed the doctoral degree, the university had secured national accreditation required by the PSC. While the member did not enroll at a time when the program was nationally accredited, the degree conferred upon him by the university did meet the PSC’s accreditation requirements combined with delay caused by university personnel changes beyond his control, strict application of the PSC’s rule would be inequitable and unfair. Had it not been for the delays caused by the university, the member would have easily completed the program by 2016.

In addition, the member did not have the benefit of the PSC’s Upgrade Advisor prior to seeking enrollment in the doctoral program since such a thing did not exist at that time. And unlike metro local educational agencies with extensive professional supports services, he did not receive similar level of support needed to ensure such information as duration of program completion is contemplated.

As a result of the network’s attorney’s appeal, the PSC granted the certificate upgrade to Tier II Educational Leadership thus making him eligible for a well-earned salary increase. It was an honor to represent this member. We thank him for believing in GAE legal services as we believed in him for fighting the fight against long odds.

[1] O.C.G.A. 50-13-9.1 (a), “strict application of rules can lead to unreasonable, uneconomical, and unintended results in particular instances.”  Thus, the PSC is “authorized to grant a variance or waiver to a rule when a person subject to that rule demonstrates that the purpose of the underlying statute upon which the rule is based can be or has been achieved by other specific means which are agreeable to the person seeking the variance or waiver and that strict application of the rule would create a substantial hardship to such person.”  Id. at (c).  Under the code, “substantial hardship” means, “significant, unique, and demonstrable economic, technological, legal, or other type of hardship to the person requesting a variance or waiver which impairs the ability of the person to continue to function in the regulated practice or business.”  Id. at (b)(1).