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When teachers walk away, school districts don’t have to tell

Each time Carl Hudson Jr. walked away from a metro Atlanta teaching job since 2016, the three districts that employed him took different routes to addressing the matter.

None took any step that would let future prospective employers know about it. Technically, it is not required.

School administrators did not take an action that could have flagged Hudson as he moved from school system to school system. The districts did not report him to the state teacher certifying agency for contract abandonment — a process that would have triggered an investigation and possible decertification if Hudson was found to have acted improperly by walking away from his students.

His case highlights a pitfall of the state’s voluntary notification system, where districts can report a teacher if they feel the absence does damage to student learning.

Paul Shaw, director of educator ethics for the Georgia Professional Standards Commission, said the decision how to handle teachers leaving in the middle of the school year, before their contract expires, is left to the individual districts.

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“We don’t require (school districts) to submit,” Shaw said. Whether they do or not “is a district decision. All we do is certify teachers. If a teacher walks out and breaks a contract, and you want to report it, then you can.”

Since 2013, 72 teachers have been sanctioned by the Professional Standards Commission, the agency that certifies teachers, for contract abandonment. Commission officials said that number only includes teachers who had some sort of action taken against them, not every claim filed. That information was not retained, officials said.

The lack of oversight in Hudson Jr.’s case could be attributed to how districts nationwide are coping amid a projected 60,000-teacher shortage nationally, which has found many scrambling to fill classrooms with teachers, waiving certification requirements and sometimes missing pertinent information that would have disqualified a candidate from consideration.

Teacher advocates argue most times a teacher is a victim of circumstance, under contract in an impossible situation, unwilling to fulfill obligations in a job suddenly far from that for which they signed up.

“We need to look deeper into systemic reasons that teachers may be walking off the jobs,” said Georgia Federation of Teachers President Verdaillia Turner. “We’ve had teachers who’ve said, ‘I don’t care, I’ll go wait tables first.’ In some of the schools where there’s total chaos and the children are in charge, the adults are in fear of whatever. It’s too much. Some teachers don’t know the consequences and don’t care.

“Some do know the consequences … and don’t care.”

At KIPP Atlanta Collegiate High School, part of the KIPP Metro Atlanta public charter school system, Hudson was seen in the school about 7:15 a.m. on Aug. 9, 2016. He was gone before his first class.

“We have been unable to contact him and he has not checked out with his keys or other equipment,” officials wrote on separation documents.

Officials there terminated his employment. Because the school is part of a charter system, he did not need to be certified by the Georgia Professional Standards Commission.

He was hired by Atlanta Public Schools a few months later, in October 2016. According to his Atlanta Public Schools personnel file, Hudson worked on Nov. 30, 2017, and submitted his resignation late in the afternoon of Dec. 1, after missing the day’s work at Frederick Douglass High School.

“We accepted Mr. Hudson’s resignation and released him from his contract,” Atlanta Public Schools spokesman Seth Coleman said. “As such, him leaving the District was not considered contract abandonment, and therefore, was not reported to the Georgia PSC.”

He was hired by the DeKalb County School District to teach math at Tucker High School last summer. He walked off the job a few months later on Nov. 26, district officials said. He’s still listed as a DeKalb County School District employee, but as being on “unauthorized leave.” He has not been paid since he left unexpectedly, payroll documents show.

Some have questioned the Professional Standards Commission’s effectiveness, and whether it has any right to weigh in on contract enforcement.

The Georgia Association of Educators took up the issue of whether the group should be the investigating agency on teacher contract matters in 2018, writing that contract abandonment “has become a tool for districts to force teachers to remain in unhappy jobs which could have a negative effect on their students.

“There simply is no current option for districts to be held accountable when they fail to support (their) teachers.”

Mike McGonigle, GAE’s general counsel, said discussions were reflected in amendments to the Educator Code of Ethics, where abandonment of contract was deleted as an individual standard.

“It’s been a long-standing issue for a long time, teacher contract,” he said. “They’re take it or leave it. You can’t negotiate anything.”

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