At the most recent Clay County School Board meeting, the citizens of the county got to watch as the board went back and forth over the issue of returning a military service member to employment after he returned from a recent deployment to Africa.
Repeatedly, we were told that the district was doing all it was legally required to do according to their understanding of the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act, also known as USERRA. The position that the Superintendent was acting in the interest of uniformity and consistency with respect to human resources was also cited.
All board members were sure to remind everyone that they respect and honor the service of our military members.
In the end, the board voted 4-1 to terminate the service members employment; leaving him with their hopes, as well as those of the superintendent, that he find employment at a school within the district. And I am sure that legally the board is right in their action; but what about morally or ethically?
The question that should plague this board is why did this situation occur in the first place?
Addison Davis has assured the citizens of Clay County that he strives to be proactive; this board has assured the citizens that they also seek to support the superintendent in his efforts to be proactive.
Did none of them know there were reservists under our employment? Did none of them know members of our teaching force were deployed on active duty defending our nation? Regardless of the answer, we have to question their regard for our teachers who take on the added responsibility of Reserve or Guard service in a branch of the military.
In April, the board, through proclamation, recognized children of service members. The proclamation extolled the profound situation these children find themselves in. In Clay it would seem those same children also have to worry if their parents will have a job should they return home unharmed from combat deployments.
The school board lawyer said again and again that the board had no oversight as to whom the superintendent hired, but the board does have oversight as to how hiring and employment is conducted with respect to our district policies.
A policy that places all returning service members into an at-large position respective of their title, should they not be able to return to their original position, and further affords them “shall interview” preference in positions that they are certified for, as well as including out-of-field hires should no certified position be available, would provide returning service members the employment protections at the heart and spirit of USERRA as well as ensuring we are meeting our obligation to those answering our nation’s call.
Clay County School District is the largest employer in the county, what example, what precedent are we setting? What message are we sending to veterans across the county? What message are we sending to service members who want to continue serving our community as teachers? How can we say that we respect the service of veterans when we ignore our moral and ethical commitment to them? How can we claim to recognize the stresses of children whose parents are deployed when we are adding to those stresses?
We cannot thank them for their service while we are showing them the door.
Roel Escamilla Jr.
Editor’s Note: Roel Escamilla Jr. has filed papers of intent to run for the District 3 School Board seat currently held by Betsy Condon. Also, the board’s 4-1 vote was actually to accept the district’s human resources department’s recommendations on contracts and did not specifically single out any one specific individual.