Loudoun County School Superintendent Edgar B. Hatrick III has made a written offer to rehire a seventh-grade English teacher who was forced from her job after a cancer relapse, and has promised to recommend changes in medical leave policies that would allow "greater latitude" in future cases.
Alison Yowell, 31, had asked for four months of unpaid leave from her job at a Sterling school to receive treatment for Hodgkin's disease. But school officials, citing that she is a recent hire, denied the request and told her she would have to resign, which she did, effective Monday. Officials had argued that they were bound by personnel policies.
Yowell, 31, was told she would be "immediately rehired" when she is able.
After Yowell's case became public this week, prompting angry missives to the school district's Leesburg headquarters, Hatrick informed Yowell that the district would reexamine those policies.
"Please know that your situation has caused me to ask for a comprehensive review of our policies with regard to medical leave without pay, access to the sick leave bank and the possibility of instituting a short-term disability policy to cover employee medical absences," Hatrick wrote. "Although you have resigned your teaching position in accordance with current policies and regulations, you will be immediately rehired to your former position as soon as you are able to return to work," he wrote.
Excerpts of Hatrick's letter were read to a reporter by Yowell. They were confirmed by Patsy Layer, a leader of the Loudoun Education Association who advised Yowell.
Yowell said she is happy the district might change its sick leave rules. "I respect their willingness to reevaluate the policy," Yowell said. But she said she is not sure whether she wants the job back. "I honestly don't know when and how I'll make the decision," she said.
Yowell said that for now, her primary focus is her health. "It's kind of a decision you have to make emotionally, not to take on what's not as important . . . and to put aside anything that's not life-threatening," she said.
Hatrick declined to answer questions about the content of his letter, calling it a personnel matter.
A school spokesman said leave policies would be examined by the School Board's personnel committee. He said confidentiality rules limit what officials can say.
In an interview last week, Hatrick said the school system routinely rehires employees in situations similar to Yowell's. The principal at River Bend Middle School, Bennett Lacy, told Yowell before she resigned that he would rehire her, Yowell said. The authority to hire, however, is held by top officials. Yowell said Lacy has been very supportive.
Layer said Hatrick's letter represents a victory for Yowell and other teachers who might find themselves in the same situation.
"I regret that the school system had a policy in place that made them look so bad, and we couldn't have resolved this sooner," Layer said. "They had a dinosaur of a policy that could not have been any more anti-new teacher, and they let it tie their hands. That's the unfortunate part of the story."
School Board Chairman John A. Andrews II (Potomac) said he would not commit to changing sick leave policies at this point, but said he is willing to study the issue with the hope of improving how cases such as Yowell's are handled.
"All of us appreciate the situation she's in. We are all sympathetic and empathetic, and I hope . . . we can discuss this further and be able to better address situations like this in the future," Andrews said.