The Vernonia School Board met in a Special Public Meeting on Thursday, January 15 and voted unanimously to grant popular high school science teacher Jean Riley unpaid leave until February 12, 2015
Riley’s teaching license expired on December 31, 2014. She told the board she is only weeks away from completing a Masters Degree and applying to have her teaching license renewed.
Riley has been a teacher in the Vernonia School District since 2003.
Miller placed Riley on unpaid leave, according to District policy, when she was unable to complete the needed work in time to meet the December 31 deadline imposed by the State of Oregon.. Riley then made a request for Emergency Leave in order to complete the renewal of her license. Miller denied the Emergency Leave request based on the fact that without a teaching license Riley was no longer covered under the rules of the District’s collective bargaining agreement. Riley appealed Miller’s decision to the School Board, which led to the Special Meeting. According to the agenda for the meeting Miller was prepared to bring forward to the Board a recommendation to terminate Riley.
Twenty-eight people spoke on behalf of Riley at the School Board meeting, including current and former students, other teachers, parents of students and community members. All delivered a similar message: Riley is an organized, dedicated and respected teacher who challenges her students. Many called her one of the best teachers in the District. Riley spoke last and tearfully apologized to the audience, her students and the School Board, explaining that she had numerous personal issues over the last year which kept her from completing her license renewal.
Riley requested that any discussion about her case by the School Board be held in public. The Board discussed Riley’s appeal and asked several questions of Riley, her union representative Steve White, and School Board legal council Rebecca Jacobson.
White told the Board it should only be a matter of weeks until Riley is able to complete her work and have her license renewed.
The School Board then recessed to meet in Executive Session under ORS 196.660 (2)(f) to consult with their legal representative.
Upon returning to open session, School Board Vice President Jim Krahn made a statement reminding the audience that this situation was not caused by the actions of Superintendent Miller or the School Board, but by Riley’s inability to meet state requirements to renew her license. Krahn noted that Riley had already been given an Emergency extension of her license by the State of Oregon when it expired in 2013 and was given until December 31, 2014 to complete her work. “This is not the first time we’ve been here with Ms. Riley,” said Krahn.
In a dramatic and tense few moments the Board voted unanimously to uphold Miller’s decision to deny Riley’s request for Emergency Leave. The Board then unanimously approved a motion to direct Miller to grant Riley unpaid leave until the next School Board meeting on February 12, 2015. The Board followed that by unanimously approving another motion to delay until February 12 any decision on Miller’s recommendation to terminate Riley.