In the latest turn of events surrounding the Rineharts, it appears that there is no state law preventing fellow teachers from donating their sick leave to South Gwinnett math teacher Floyd Mark Rinehart.
Rinehart is caring for his wife, Hannah, as she recovers from a bacterial infection that resulted in blood poisoning. Both hands and feet were amputated.
Teachers at South Gwinnett have come together in support of the family, and offered to donate their paid time off (PTO) so that Mark could spend more time with his wife and still receive a paycheck.
At first, it seemed a state law prohibited those teachers from doing so. According to WSBRadio.com, "state law prohibits the donation of sick leave unless it's to a spouse."
However, State Rep. Brett Harrell responded to a story on Snellville Patch saying that Hannah's brother, David Johnson, contacted Harrell and Rep. Josh Clark about the issue.
After numerous inquiries regarding state law (OCGA 20-2-850), they determined the following:
"Legislative counsel (state attorneys) responded to Rep. Clark's inquiry suggesting that "there doesn't seem to be a direct impediment for a school system to do this (provide leave)." One state attorney replied, "I haven't found anything that "prohibits" this (time-off)," and concluded that "the Code section should not be construed to prohibit a local board from adopting other policies relative to sick leave."
Bottom line? The local school board has the authority to address the issue.
The misunderstanding stems from a portion of the law that states that spouses can donate up to ten days of PTO to their spouses. That law is meant to protect the spouse, but not to prevent other teachers from donating to teachers in need, according to Harrell.
Mark has 60 days of leave already, according to David Johnson, Hannah Rinehart's brother. Any time past that, however, and he would lose his pay and insurance.
And Hannah is under Mark's insurance. Although he could, as a member of the National Guard, obtain military benefits, they don't want Hannah moved to a VA hospital.
In other words, Mark needs to keep his pay and his insurance, according to Johnson.
The next course of action will be appealing to the Gwinnett County Board of Education. Johnson will speak to the board on Thursday during their regular meeting at 7 p.m. While he is trying to get on the agenda, he may end up speaking during the public comment section of the evening. In a letter to the board, he wrote:
"I would like to speak at the August 18th meeting next Thursday to request the school board make a decision to allow Gwinnett County teachers to donate their unused vacation time to Mr. Rinehart... [Mark's] 60 day paid leave time is insufficient."
Whatever the board's decision, he feels he has "a great support team." He is inviting members of the public to join him as he speaks with the Board of Education.