The State of Our Schools
As a part of their practice, Wiggins Childs team Candis McGowan and Lacey Danley have been hired as network attorneys for the Alabama Education Association. As such, McGowan and Danley work together on employment litigation for public school employees – a unique niche of legal work, helping to improve the inner workings of Alabama’s school systems so that school employees can instead focus on the important roles they play as educators and educational staff to Alabama students. As AEA network attorneys, lawyers may be assigned a variety of cases, though common issues include employment status and terms, discrimination, and salary disputes. While the team nearly always provides an opportunity for the board attorney to settle the issue outside of the courtroom, about 80% of the cases assigned will end up with litigation involved, either in state or federal court. Due to the unique nature of many of these cases, representing these clients often requires complex steps and/or swift action pursuant to state statues regulating public education employment, such as deadlines for contesting employment actions and providing due process.
When discussing why many of the cases ultimately arise, both McGowan and Danley adamantly agree that funding is a core issue. The team underscores how imperative it is for the legislature to do a better job funding school systems, as the lack of money allotted for these institutions affects our most valuable resource: our children. The funding school systems do get is often spent unwisely, as many of these systems are too top heavy – meaning too many highly-paid administrators, but not nearly enough teachers and support for students. Benefits have been cut, money is scarce, and often school boards are unsupportive of their teachers and staff, leaving too much room for employee issues to arise. Candis and Lacey make these statements not only based on their expansive knowledge of the legal standards regarding public schools, but also because they attend yearly AEA attorney seminars for further education regarding new laws and rulings that affect these cases. Most importantly, these types of cases are near and dear to the hearts of this team, as they both grew up in families full of educators – some loved ones teaching three generations within the same community over nearly 50 years.
As with any employer, state educational systems are not without their employment problems. One of the benefits AEA provides to its members is the appointment of appropriate legal counsel to public school employees so these employees have a fighting chance of being heard. While Candis and Lacey agree that to correct any injustice is rewarding, the steady resolution to seek justice for those teaching, serving, stimulating, and enriching our school children is perhaps the most inspiring.