The family of a Gwinnett County teacher is urging the school district to allow other teachers to donate their sick time so he can stay by his wife's side.
Hannah Rinehart is a quadruple amputee fighting a rare bacterial infection and will be hospitalized for an undetermined length of time. Her husband, Mark Rinehart, is a math teacher at South Gwinnett High School.
Last week, the school district told Channel 2's Kerry Kavanaugh that state law prevented it from allowing the teacher's coworkers from donating their paid leave so he could spend more time with his wife.
David Johnson said it has been an excruciating five weeks with his sister battling the rare infection. She is a three-time cancer survivor, but septic shock from the infection forced doctors to amputate her hands and feet.
"Hannah goes back and forth in different levels of sedation," Johnson said. "But when she's awake, she's asking for Mark."
Johnson said his sister will need her husband by her side as she continues treatment.
"He wants to be there for her, but it's more than that. I mean, she really needs him," Johnson said.
Mark Rinehart gets 30 days of paid leave from the county, but when other teachers offered to donate their days to him, the district said it was against state law.
State lawmakers disagree.
"State policy doesn't prohibit teachers from being able to donate sick leave to other teachers," Rep. Josh Clark (R-Buford) said.
Clark provided Kavanaugh with a copy of the specific code that gives local districts the authority.
"A local school board of education may establish and set policies and procedures for a sick leave bank or pool of voluntarily contributed employee sick leave days," the code says.
The school district issued a statement on the matter Monday afternoon.
"Our staff members have continued to review both state law and local policies regarding this request. While we understand this is a catastrophic situation for this employee, this is not a simple change. As a school district we have on average 550 people on leave at any given time. Currently, we have 131 people on leave who are not receiving pay because they have used all of their available sick leave. In looking at this request, decisions must be made that are fair and sustainable for all 22,000 GCPS employees. That said, we will continue to do all we can do to work with Mr. Rinehart during this difficult time," the district said.
Johnson said the school board will allow him to speak for three minutes at the regular board meeting Thursday night. He said he expects dozens to show up to support Mark and Hannah Rinehart.