DCSS teacher hearing pending

ALBANY, Ga. -- A physical education teacher at Lamar Reese Elementary School who has been suspended more nearly three months is being treated harshly because she's not part of the "in" crowd, her attorney says.

On Oct. 1, Rhonda Ryans received notice from the Dougherty County School System that she had been suspended with pay from her duties as a teacher. The letter states that the suspension was connected to allegations made against her that were serious enough for her presence to "cause a disruption for the students and personnel of the school."

The causes stated in the letter were "insubordination," "willful neglect of duties in maintaining order with assigned students," "failure to plan and provide instruction as per Georgia Performance Standards" and "any other good and sufficient cause."

"Specifically, the accusations are tardiness for required district meetings and refusal to accept assistance and guidance in delivering effective physical education to assigned students; lack of performance regarding planning and delivering effective physical education at Lamar Reese Magnet School of the Arts; your disagreeable and often threatening behavior toward other teachers and staff; your recent more bizarre behavior involving insistence on wearing a backpack at all times during instruction and your blatant refusal to respond to questions and directives from the Principal, Dr. Valerie Thomas," the letter stated.

Howard Stiller, an attorney representing Ryans, contends his client is being treated too harshly and says that her problems may stem more from not being part of the "in" crowd.

"There is a certain group there that all have ties to one another and she doesn't fit in," Stiller said. "I haven't seen anything that indicates that she can't wear a backpack. Ms. Ryans offered to let them look in it."

According to Stiller, administrators were also unhappy with how Ryans was giving instruction on a Tinikling dance. A disagreement between Ryans and the administration on this issue resulted in a written and verbal reprimand on Sept. 24.

Ten days before that, on Sept. 14, she was given a Professional Development Plan outlining the ways she was expected to improve -- two weeks before she received the suspension letter.

"It is common sense that you should be given time to correct what you are deficient in," Stiller. "Why would you give her only two weeks to improve?"

Her attorney also noted that during this time, Ryans had been seen by a mental health professional -- who determined she was fit to work.

Once a hearing takes place, which will likely be after the first of the year, 15-20 witnesses are expected to testify -- none of whom are parents or students, the educator's legal counsel said.

"There are no children, no parents coming forward," he said.

During the hearing, the Dougherty County School Board will function as a jury, go into executive session to deliberate evidence and then vote on whether Ryans' employment will be terminated. "Ms. Ryans is hopeful they will not terminate her contract," Stiller said.

Tommy Coleman, attorney for the Dougherty County School Board, said it will be up to those serving on the board to determine the facts.

"Ultimately, the School Board hires them, disciplines them and fires them," he said. "If the facts presented are inaccurate, the board will make that decision.

"That's what the hearings are for."

A hearing was initially scheduled to take place before the School Board on Oct. 11. Stiller requested a continuance, and the hearing was re-scheduled for Nov. 18.

At the Nov. 18 hearing, Stiller said, less than half the School Board arrived -- and it was determined that those present were unaware the process would take the better part of two or three days. Scheduling conflicts did not permit them enough time to conduct the hearings.

"It's been somewhat difficult (since Nov. 18) because of the holiday (to schedule the hearing) so the board members can be there for three days," Coleman said. "We need to get the majority of board members there all day every day."

The hearing will be open to the public. Ryans will be allowed to appeal the board's decision, Coleman added.