State union backs PBC teacher blocked from presidential run for taking leave

Palm Beach County’s public teachers union is reconsidering its decision to block a high school teacher and Boynton Beach city commissioner from running for union president because he took a leave of absence to care for a dying relative.

The move to reconsider comes after the state teachers union recommended last week that Justin Katz, a 32-year-old teacher at Park Vista High School, be allowed to run in the upcoming election, saying that the county’s Classroom Teachers Association did not have “sufficient evidence to support their position” that his candidacy be denied.

Justin Katz

Justin Katz

The union’s board of directors is scheduled to meet today to consider the FEA’s recommendation, which called for his candidacy to “be reinstated immediately.” A spokesman for the state union said that its recommendation is “not binding.”

The meeting could bring an end to a standoff that has rocked the campaign to be the union’s next leader. Seven other candidates have qualified to run, but campaign activities have been on hold while Katz’s appeal is sorted out.

Earlier this year, union leaders told Katz, who is also a Boynton Beach city commissioner, that he wasn’t eligible to run because his dues had lapsed when he took family leave in 2015 to care for his dying grandmother.

They pointed to a union rule that requires any presidential candidate to be an “active member who has been in continuous good standing for two consecutive years.”

katz-reinstate-fb

Justin Katz announced the FEA’s decision on Facebook last week.

The rule, however, makes an exception for “School Board-approved leaves.” Katz has argued that the union had never said that candidates needed to continue paying dues while on leave.

Katz appealed the union’s decision to the state union, the Florida Education Association. On Tuesday, an FEA committee voted 9-1 to recommend that the county union, the CTA, reinstate Katz as a candidate.

The committee said that the CTA was not able to provide any evidence that it had ever previously articulated or enforced a policy that failing to pay dues while on leave could affect a teacher’s ability to run for office.

When Katz was weighing a run, he said that he checked with the union and says he was assured that there was no problem with his candidacy.

Katz announced the FEA’s decision on his Facebook page last week.

“We’re back in the game!” he wrote. “Candidacy for upcoming CTA elections reinstated, as it should have been all along.”

But it remains to be seen whether the county union will adopt the FEA’s recommendation. In a statement, CTA President Kathi Gundlach said union leaders will make the final call.

“The CTA Board of Directors will review the recommendation from FEA on Monday to determine what course of action will be taken,” she said.

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