Candidate fighting denial of benefits
By Michael Prochaska
A former employee of the Morgan County School System, Marcia Malone, currently a candidate for the District 3 seat on the Board of Education (BOE), has filed for judicial review before the Morgan County Superior Court of a decision by the state to deny her unemployment.
The review involves the Georgia Department of Labor’s Board of Review’s decision to deny Malone unemployment benefits, a decision the Department of Labor (DOL) itself previously came to as a result of Malone’s termination from her post as a Morgan County Schools bus driver.
Malone, 61, was employed by the Morgan County School System as a bus driver from Sept. 2008 to Nov. 11, 2011, at which point she took forced administrative leave pending a termination hearing.
Malone was officially terminated on grounds of insubordination at a BOE meeting Dec. 12, 2011, though the decision was made during a closed session. A reason was not given publically for her termination.
Malone then filed a claim with the state DOL for unemployment compensation benefits but was denied that request on Jan. 10, 2012 by a claims examiner at the DOL.
According to Georgia law, a former public employee cannot be paid unemployment benefits if he or she was fired for not following the employer’s rules or orders.
As a result of this denial of unemployment benefits, Malone appealed the decision and requested an “appeals tribunal” before an administrative hearing officer; this was held March 1, 2012. The hearing officer presiding over the tribunal, Pamela White-Ezekiel, affirmed the DOL’s previous determination.
Then, a result of this second denial of unemployment benefits by the DOL, Malone appealed the decision to the DOL’s Board of Review. On April 17, 2012, for a third time, Malone was denied unemployment benefits by the DOL.
Documentation of events
During the initial DOL hearing in March 2012, Malone testified that she e-mailed her employer, Morgan County School System Director of Operations Bob Monk, on Nov. 1, 2011 with concerns about a student who reported abuse to her.
She testified that, two days later, she again reiterated those concerns through a subsequent e-mail addressed to Monk regarding the student. In those e-mails, obtained through a Freedom of Information (FOI) request by the Morgan County Citizen, Malone wrote that the student came onto her bus visibly upset and crying, stating that her father had choked her the night before and that the police were called to the house.
Malone also testified that on the same day – Nov. 3, 2011 – the grandmother of the 15-year-old student called Malone and informed her of the situation at the family’s home and that her granddaughter had allegedly been convicted of a felony.
The next day – Nov. 4, 2011 – Monk responded to Malone's e-mails, instructing Malone to “Leave the subject alone 100 percent.”
Malone responded to Monk’s request via e-mail the same day, stating: “Ten four Mr. Monk!"
According to notes from the DOL tribunal on March 1, 2012, Monk “took the claimant's (Malone's) concerns through the proper channel,” i.e. informed a Morgan County High School counselor of Malone’s concerns.
Documentation by Monk, dated Nov. 10, 2011, indicates that Malone had contact with the family. The report states: “I (Monk) also shared with Marcia (Malone) an e-mail I received from administration at the high school telling me that a family [member] had expressed extreme displeasure with Marcia's involvement in their family situation.” A Nov. 17, 2011 letter from Superintendent Dr. Ralph Bennett to Malone reiterates the family's displeasure with the situation, stating that the grandparents called the high school counselor to say Malone “yelled at [the ninth grade student’s grandfather] and accused him of abusing the ninth grade student in front of the bus load of students.”
In an interview with the Citizen, Malone contested this allegation, stating again that all conversations with the grandparents were unsolicited and that she reported all incoming phone messages from the grandparents to Monk.
Furthermore, Malone told the Citizen that she first heard of the student’s family troubles when the student openly shared that information with other children on the bus.
At the March 1, 2012 DOL hearing, Malone said that she received no training on the proper procedure for reporting child abuse or neglect. Although the Morgan County School System-issued employee handbook doesn't address the reporting of child abuse or neglect – the handbook addresses solely sexual abuse – the school system's Board Policy JGI, available online at www.morgan.k12.ga.us, does, stating: “The State of Georgia requires by law that any...school staff member report all cases of suspected child abuse or neglect of children under 18 years of age. Any other person who has reasonable cause to believe that a child is abused may report or cause reports to be made.” Board policy JGI-R(0) also states: “School employees should not contact the child’s family or any other persons to determine the cause of the suspected abuse or neglect. It is not the duty of the school employee to prove that a child has been abused or neglected or to determine if the child needs protection.”
Malone told the Citizen that she could not remember receiving a handbook, and if she did, she could not locate one.
On Nov. 9, 2011, according to FOI-requested documentation, Malone e-mailed Georgia Department of Education Pupil Transportation Director Carlton Allen to inquire about laws pertaining to the transport of students who are alleged felons.
In an e-mail sent the next day, Allen advised Malone that the issue needed to be resolved on a local level and to address her concerns to the Morgan County School System.
At Malone's initial DOL hearing on March 1, 2012, DOL Hearing Officer White-Ezekiel asked Malone why she continued to get involved despite direct orders to leave the issue alone. Malone responded, “Because I questioned why the child was allowed to be on a bus with all ages. Why wasn’t I informed that the child had [an alleged] felony?”
Monk, also present at the March 1, 2012 DOL hearing, testified that he was also not aware that the student had an alleged felony on her record.
Reasons for appeal
Malone stated in her request for an appeal of the March 1, 2012 denial of unemployment benefits that her fears for the child were validated by a 911 call made from the child’s residence. Malone became aware of the call after the student's family volunteered the information, she said.
Malone’s request for the 911 calls and for her bus tapes to be brought to the hearings were denied.
“My reason for appeal is not for $91.00 per week; my appeal is a plea for an answer to my question ‘Why have I been charged with insubordination when I was in fear for the safety of a child and our children on my school bus?’” she wrote in the appeal request. “I was doing what the law requires by reporting suspected child abuse and/or neglect, and in turn, I have lost my job because of it.”
“I have given them (the BOE and DOL) every opportunity to do the right thing just short of suing them,” Malone told the Citizen.
Why run for the BOE?
Malone said she is running for a BOE seat so that “nobody has to go through what I have [gone through] in a situation in which my supervisor would not help me.”
Monk declined comment on questions because “it’s a personnel matter,” he said.
–Additional writing by Kathryn Schiliro.
Printed in the July 26, 2012 edition.