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Pasco school district grants teacher with inoperable cancer paid time off to stay home

Connie Duffy has inoperable cancer. After her sick leave request was denied, she kept going to work at Bayonet Point Middle and would catch naps in the faculty lounge.

BRENDAN FITTERER | Times

Connie Duffy has inoperable cancer. After her sick leave request was denied, she kept going to work at Bayonet Point Middle and would catch naps in the faculty lounge.

BAYONET POINT — Teacher Connie Duffy left her classroom last week and realized she couldn't come back.

Her body, weakened in its battle with inoperable cancer, just couldn't work another day. So she went home to rest.

On Wednesday, she learned she can afford to stay there.

A staff committee that administers the school district's sick leave bank awarded Duffy enough paid time off to get her through the rest of the school year, reversing an earlier, controversial decision to deny her request.

Duffy, a 26-year veteran social studies teacher at Bayonet Point Middle School, said that this time her oncologist used the word "catastrophic" in the medical documentation and also wrote that she "is not able to work."

When it denied her request last month, the committee had said that her application contained no specific course of treatment and had only a general statement from her doctor.

Duffy said Wednesday she was relieved, though she said that even if she'd been denied again, she could not have gone back to work.

"I just couldn't punish my body anymore," she said.

Duffy, who lives alone, had used up all of her sick days this school year fighting the Stage 4 endometrial cancer. She is applying for Social Security disability but could not afford to go without a paycheck in the meantime.

So she leaned on the sick leave bank, a pool of days that employees contribute for their colleagues to use.

When that did not pan out, Duffy kept dragging herself to class every weekday, catching naps on the faculty lounge couch during breaks.

Her dilemma, reported in the Pasco Times earlier this month, outraged colleagues and readers.

School district officials have said that state law, district policies and contracts tied their hands when it came to Duffy's case. The only group authorized to release additional sick days from the bank is the committee made up of teachers who contribute to it.

Duffy and some other teachers have said the committee does not make clear what exactly it needs to make a decision.

Her colleagues and a former student at Bayonet Point Middle School have set up a couple of fundraisers for early next month to help her with health expenses. An account has also been set up at Republic Bank.

"She's just an inspiration to all of us," said principal Mike Asbell. "My hope as principal is that we as a school are able to really help her."

On Wednesday, Duffy said she finally realized how much rest her body needed. She has just started a new round of chemotherapy.

But knowing her body needed the rest did not make leaving the school where she'd worked nearly three decades any easier.

"It was a very hard decision because it meant the end of my teaching career," she said. "It's not the way I wanted to go out."

Jodie Tillman can be reached at jtillman@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6247.

Fast facts

Want to help?

Two fundraisers for Connie Duffy are scheduled for May 2 and 3.

• The May 2 event, which will feature silent auctions, live music and a dunk-the-principals booth, runs from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Kuryliw Chiropractic Rehab Center, 11004 Little Road, New Port Richey. That event has been organized by Derek Kuryliw, 26, a former student.

• On May 3, a benefit concert is being held at the Center for the Arts at River Ridge, 11646 Town Center Road, New Port Richey, from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. The cost is $10 for adults, $5 for students. The event includes a talent show featuring school district employees and a concert by the original Knight Sounds band, which is made up of teachers.

There is also an account in Duffy's name at Republic Bank branches.

Pasco school district grants teacher with inoperable cancer paid time off to stay home 04/22/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 22, 2009 8:44pm]

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