Kearney Public Schools defends firing teacher

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Updated: Tue, 29 Oct 2013 07:14:47 CST

Controversy in Kearney Public Schools has sparked questions over religious tolerance.

But, the school district says it has nothing to do with religion, it's a matter of fulfilling job requirements.

Candace Flavell missed 11 days of teaching within the first 6 weeks of classes, and now, she's paying the price.

The Central Elementary School teacher is on administrative leave until the end of the semester.

It's a decision that took nearly 7 hours at a School Board meeting Monday night.

Flavell came under fire after leaving for a religious event without permission.

For the first 12 years of her employment at Central Elementary School, Candace Flavell was allowed an extended leave for religious purposes, but this year she was told differently.

Kearney Public School teachers are allowed 3 days of personal leave and 2 days of unpaid leave.

"And our thought there is that in order to do the job you have to be on the job." Said Brian Maher, Superintendent of Kearney Public Schools.

Maher says the time Flavell has taken off in the past violates school policy, even though the district permitted it to happen.

This year administrators decided the time off was detrimental to her students' learning environment.

"This decision isn't based on religion; it's based on excessive absenteeism." Said Maher.

Area school districts have similar policies.

Though none would comment on the Kearney Public School District situation, they would discuss their own policy.

"I think religious freedom is very important, we all need to be able to worship the way that we see fit. But, I think the bottom line is when we're being paid to do a job, particularly for the public, that warrants priority." Said Brian Redinger, Superintendent of Shelton Public Schools. 

News 5 also spoke with Grand Island Public Schools who responded, "It is considered insubordination when any employee ignores the directive of their direct supervisor with regards to unapproved time off."

The districts say situations are considered on a case-by-case basis but, missing without permission would bring a teacher's employment into question.

"Missing instructing your students would be very uncommon and not advisable for our school district." Said Redinger.

News 5's calls to Flavell's attorney went unreturned.

Following this semester on leave Flavell can be hired as a paraprofessional in the district next semester. After that she will no longer be employed by the district.