APS:  Still Teaching in Hell!
 
 
 

June 7, 2007

 

 

Beverly Hall, Superintendent

Atlanta Public Schools

130 Trinity AVE, SW

Atlanta, GA  30303

Dear Superintendent Hall: 

 

     Enclosed is a copy of [name redacted]’s third grievance filed against Principal Patricia Wells at Carson Middle School.  The first two grievances which [name redacted] filed against Principal Wells apparently evaporated into the Bankhead air.  It appears that this third grievance has also thinly vaporized from Bankhead toward I-285 and Lowery Boulevard.  [name redacted] tells me that she still has not received any response to this grievance.  [Just yesterday, [name redacted] called in to tell us that Principal Wells sent him a letter about actually holding a Level One Hearing – Great!  Progress! –  but [name redacted] says that the letter arrived at his house on June 6, 2007, informing him that his hearing was on June 6, 2007.  Hmm.  Is there any hope for Carson Middle School?]  I do not know Principal Wells.  I would not recognize her if she were eating at the Busy Bee or at Paschal’s, but what I do recognize is the same lawless pattern for which Atlanta Public Schools (APS) is so egregiously known.  APS is a law unto itself.  Although the laws for the other school systems are passed and codified a couple blocks up the street from your palatial 8th floor office in the Taj Mahal, your fiefdom apparently does not bother itself with such mundane matters as the grievance law (O.C.G.A. 20-2-989.5 et seq.) or the sick leave law (O.C.G.A. 20-2-850) or the duty-free lunch law (O.C.G.A. 20-2-218).  I guess that you brought down to Georgia some of the mores which you may have exhibited during your tenure in New York, New Jersey, or, perhaps, Jamaica.  

 

     It disheartens me to know that the school system whose logo is “Resurgens” has descended to such anarchic depths.  On July 8th, 1999, I spoke at the board meeting when you were first introduced to the public.  I welcomed you to Atlanta and told you that you thought that you were coming to Atlanta, but that, in reality, you were coming to Kosovo, Northern Nepal, North Korea, or Rwanda.  (You can reread my comments on the MACE website by going to www.theteachersadvocate.com and perusing the contents of the Archive section.)  In that article, I compared the Atlanta Board of Education members as vacationers enjoying a nice Bahamian cruise, sipping and enjoying umbrella-clad daiquiris – while there is all kind of chaos and confusion occurring down in the engine room.  Water is gushing in from the Caribbean Sea, and the nice cruise ship is inexorably sinking while the poor, na´ve “board members” blithely enjoy their sweet drinks and their vacuous chats on the top deck. If an uninitiated visitor appeared at one of Atlanta’s Board of Education meetings, he or she might be quite impressed.  After all, the board members are so polite and chatty with one another and invariably give you unanimity in all your requests.  (I presume that your colleagues at the National Superintendents Association are gleefully or, rather enviously, impressed that you “control your board.”) 

 

     I presume that from watching the board members’ polite comportment that this same visitor would have no idea that sexual harassment lawsuits spring up from time to time, that teachers are beat up routinely (with the administration ignoring as usual the requirement to set up a Tribunal with the student whom the teacher alleges either assaulted or battered her as directed by O.C.G.A. 20-2-753), that cursing out a teacher is so routine that if a teacher complains to the administration that she does not think it appropriate that she is called a “bitch” or “ho” on a regular basis by miscreant students whom the administration not only fails to discipline for such deviant behavior but will actually write up the teacher for poor management, put the teacher on a Professional Development Plan (PDP), and eventually give the teacher an unsatisfactory evaluation and a non-renewal of her contract.  It is much easier to get rid of a teacher who expects a modicum of discipline from the students and at least a scintilla of support from his or her administration.  Of course, your apparent self-perceived mission is to seal off any information of what really goes on in the schools from “your” board members.  You can keep them happy with crushed iced water at the school board meetings, with snacks between the regular meetings and the executive session meetings, with color-coded, thick school board minutes, and, of course, with the many traveling perks.  This appears to work swimmingly for you – just as it did for a time with Canada and your homeboy, J. J.  All the millions which were never accounted for in the E-rate program can soon be forgotten – if some of the board members’ relatives are given jobs in the school system and some of the board members can eat enough meals at tony institutions such as the 191 Club.  Oh, how far the 191 Club is from Carson Middle School!  As far as the Piedmont Driving Club is from the Blue Flame Lounge!  But, hey, I digress.

 

     MACE has attempted to turn your attention to the “gangsta” status of APS in various ways (letters, pickets, etc.), but then it dawns upon me that you are probably keenly aware of this dubious status since the buck is supposed to stop with you.  In our 1996 magazine, we ran a front page article entitled “Teacher Abuse is Epidemic,” with an Atlanta middle school picket featured on the front page.  In 1997, the front page headline article of The Teacher’s Advocate! was entitled “APS:  Teaching in Hell!”  In a photo on the front page of a picket at the old APS headquarters on 210 Pryor Street, one of our lawyers was holding a sign which stated, “Discipline is out of Control!”  The next year, 1998, the front page headline was entitled “Chaos in Atlanta Schools!”  We featured another MACE picket at the old APS headquarters on 210 Pryor Street with the late Rev. Hosea Williams and me in the photo leading the picket.  In 1999, MACE had you featured on the front page of its magazine with “Dr. Hall, Welcome to Kosovo!” emblazoned across the top of the front page.  MACE had a nice photo of you (I took that very flattering photo, I might add) with a caption reading, “Will Dr. Hall be more of the same?”  There was a photo of me addressing the Atlanta school board with the caption, “How can the school board justify breaking the Georgia laws?”  Well, I am here to report to you that you have not only been “more of the same,” but in many respects, you have been quite worse than your predecessors.  In any event, for your edification – if you care to know how the law works and if you are not too lazy to read this – here is an explanation of how State law works as regards teachers filing formal complaints. 

  

     MACE has attempted to resolve incidents between administrators and certificated teachers through the State-mandated grievance procedure (O.C.G.A. 20-2-989.5 et seq.); however, the bureaucrats operating within APS have apparently decided to shoot down this process illegally rather than to abide by the mandates of the law and to allow the teachers to have a fair hearing – or, any hearing, for that matter! – and “resolve problems at the lowest possible organizational level with a minimum of conflict and formal proceedings so that good morale may be maintained, effective job performance may be enhanced, and the citizens of the community may be better served,” as the law requires (O.C.G.A. 20-2-989.5[a]).  The law requires local school boards “to implement a simple, expeditious, and fair process for resolving problems at the lowest administrative level” (O.C.G.A. 20-2-989.5[b]).  The grievance law, passed by the Georgia General Assembly and signed into effect by Governor Miller in 1992, states clearly that “the complainant shall be entitled to be heard, a right to present relevant evidence, and a right to examine witnesses at each level” (O.C.G.A. 20-2-989.8[4]).  The law also clearly states that all a complainant needs to do to initiate a complaint hearing is to put the request “in writing and [shall] clearly state the intent of the employee to access the complaints policy” (O.C.G.A. 20-2-989.8[1]).  The law further states that “a complainant shall not be the subject of any reprisal as a result of filing a complaint under this part” (O.C.G.A. 20-2-989.8[11]).  Another feature that you are no doubt aware of is the law’s requirement that the board of education, “when hearing an appeal from a prior level, shall hear the complaint de novo” (O.C.G.A. 20-2-989.8[7]).  A de novo hearing means that the board itself, not a tribunal composed of the administration’s handpicked flunkies, must hear the complaint.  This Level III is not an appellate review of the evidence presented at Levels I and II; it is indeed a new hearing.  That is the definition of a de novo hearing.  The law requires the elected members of the board to hear this matter.  This is the opinion of Lauren Buckland, Hearing Officer for the State Board of Education, and the opinion of Gary Wolovick, former Legal Counsel for the Georgia Department of Education (“Appeals Before the State Board of Education,” Institute of Continuing Legal Education School Law; Procedures and Practicality, June 18, 1993, p.4).  This is the opinion of Matt Billips, the attorney who drafted the language of the grievance bill which was passed into law in 1992 (“Reply Brief In Opposition To Brief In Support of Fulton County Board’s Use Of Hearing Tribunal,” Before Hearing Officer Patrick W. McKee, March 2, 1993).  The law is clear:  A de novo hearing before the school board is required.  A tribunal hearing is not permissible.  This brings us to the last point that MACE will address on the grievance policy.  The policy states:  “Nothing in this part [law] shall be construed to prevent a local unit of administration [defined earlier as a local board of education] from adopting supplementary rules and policies not inconsistent with this part [law] that grant additional substantive and procedural rights to the complainant with respect to this part [law]” (O.C.G.A. 20-2-989.9).

 

     At MACE, we have always attempted to abide by the letter of the law and to inform aggrieved teachers to do the same.  We have always informed teachers of the law and their rights under the law.  We have encouraged aggrieved teachers to file a complaint under the State-mandated grievance/complaints law and to try to resolve the problems, as the law says, “at the lowest possible organizational level with a minimum of conflict and formal proceedings so that good morale may be maintained, effective job performance may be enhanced, and the citizens of the community may be better served.”  When one of our teacher-members, however, files a grievance in writing and states the statute, policy, rule, regulation, or written agreement which, according to the teacher, has been violated, misinterpreted, or misapplied, the bureaucrats (or, educrats) in APS, start playing bureaucracy and firing off letters to the teachers, telling them that they have not provided “enough details” for their grievances to be processed, if they even respond at all.  [Incidentally, APS added an illegal fourth level to the grievance process, thus adding an obstacle for the teacher having his or her complaint heard by the school board.]  The bureaucrats keep dragging their heels, keep requesting more information, and keep making rulings on the pleadings which is against the law.  Remember:  The process is mandated to be simple (translated:  the teachers do not need to be lawyers), expeditions (translated:  quick, not tendentious), and fair (translated:  certainly not tilted toward defending the administration!).  Also, if the law says that teachers need only to (1) state in writing that they are accessing the grievance process and (2) cite the alleged rule, policy, etc., violation, misinterpretation, and/or misapplication, then any additional burden that the bureaucrats impose on the teachers is a violation of that law’s provision which clearly and unequivocally states that any additional features of a local school board’s grievance policy (additional to the State’s minimum requirements) must “grant additional substantive and procedural rights to the complainant,” not to the administration (O.C.G.A. 20-2-989.9).  There is not a provision in the law which states that if a teacher’s grievance representative consistently and thoroughly exposes the egregious mechanizations and manipulative, retributive, and punitive undertakings of the teacher’s administrator, then the school system’s bureaucrats have a free hand to violate the law and refuse to process the grievances wherein the administrators may be proven to be unprofessional and unethical.  Remember:  Teachers, by law, have a right “to be heard, to present relevant evidence, and to examine witnesses at each level” (O.C.G.A. 20-2-989.8[4]). 

 

     As you probably realize by now, MACE will always fight vigorously for its teachers-members.  Every time educrats refuse to process a grievance, MACE ends up picketing at the school or at the school system’s administrative office or at school board meetings.  MACE is going to expose the cavalier violations of the law.  MACE is not going to shut up.  MACE will continue to agitate and irritate until the educrats decide that they will act like civil adults and will sit down at a level table and discuss the complaint that a teacher brings, alleging a violation, misinterpretation, or misapplication of a statute, policy, rule, regulation, or written agreement.  MACE would think that educrats would be eager to know such information, but it pains MACE to realize that the truth of the matter is that APS bureaucrats basically have fortress mentalities – wherein they do not want to be disturbed by the realities of what is really happening beyond their walls.  It is as if they are really afraid of the truth, and, anyone who disturbs their cute and convenient notion (especially after it has been spoon-fed to the school board members) of what is really happening in the schools is really “radical” and should not be listened to.  Meanwhile, the educrats keep drawing their huge salaries (and benefits to boot!) and the children keep suffering.

 

                                                          Respectfully:

 

 

 

                                                          John R. A. Trotter, Ed.D.,J.D.

                                                          Chairman

 

 

Copy:  J. Anderson Ramay, Jr., Esq., MACE

           Members, Board of Education, APS

           Members, Board of Education, State of Georgia

           Cheryl Freeman, Employee Relations Officer, APS

           Patricia Wells, Principal, Carson Middle School, APS

           Kathy Cox, State Superintendent of Schools

           Sonny Perdue, Governor

           Glenn Richardson, Speaker of the House

           Thurbert Baker, Attorney General

           Floyd Toth, Executive Secretary, PSCls

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