Pasco County School Board member Cathi Martin said Thursday she wants the board to reverse a decision denying sick leave to a Bayonet Point Middle School teacher with inoperable cancer.
"She should be at home," Martin said. "Poor lady. I just feel so sorry for her."
Martin's comments to the Pasco Times, her first in a month, carry an unusual significance: She has been mired in controversy after last month announcing her resignation due to health problems — then this month announcing she'd changed her mind and would keep her seat.
Martin said she had read a Times story last week about Connie Duffy, the Bayonet Point teacher with late-stage endometrial cancer who has used up her sick days for the year.
Duffy was recently denied additional time off from the teachers' "sick leave bank," a pool of days that employees contribute for their colleagues to use. As a result, Duffy, whose body has shrunk to a bony 107 pounds, has dragged herself into work every day, napping on the faculty lounge couch during breaks between classes.
The story touched a nerve with many people, generating an outpouring of e-mails, phone calls and blog postings. Readers have talked about setting up an account in Duffy's name, and some substitute teachers have even offered to fill in for her classes for no pay. With the district out this week for spring break, nothing has happened with her case.
Duffy is spending her spring break at an Illinois cancer treatment center.
She has reapplied to the sick leave bank, though she wasn't sure when the bank committee would meet again.
Martin said she, too, was moved by Duffy's plight and wants the School Board to discuss overriding the committee's decision at its next meeting, on April 21.
Martin, who missed all of the board meetings last month, said she will be there.
"I feel she's entitled to the sick bank," Martin said. "We've overridden several things brought before us."
Since her 2006 election, Martin has missed board meetings because of knee surgery, a seizure, high blood pressure, a car crash and several family-related crises.
The Democrat's attendance record was spotty enough that some state lawmakers, all Republicans, had called for her resignation. Shortly after her near-resignation last month, the jockeying for her seat began as six people filed applications with the governor's office seeking to be appointed in her place.
Martin sent superintendent Heather Fiorentino a letter April 2 saying she had decided to finish her term "after much soul searching and consultation with my family and friends."
Martin said Thursday that she is feeling better. She had just been at the doctor's office getting an MRI on her knee.
In recent days, she said, she had received "nasty, nasty" e-mails that made her cry, ones that called her names that cannot be reprinted here.
But she said she is committed to the School Board.
"I am so passionate about this job," she said.
Jodie Tillman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6246.