Court ruling protects teacher tenure
A Superior Court judge ruled a new state law stripping teachers of tenure was unconstitutional.
Superior Court Judge Robert Hobgood on May 16 in a Wake County courthouse ordered an injunction against legislation that would have eliminated career status for public school teachers throughout North Carolina. In his ruling, Hobgood said Senate Bill 402 violates the contract clause in the U.S. Constitution and “amounts to an unconstitutional taking of property rights in their existing contracts.”
Public school systems at the end of last year were ordered by law to identify and offer four-year contracts to the top 25 percent of teachers in exchange for their tenure. Teachers who accepted also would receive an additional $500 per year over the next four years. Remaining teachers who had been with the school system for three years or less would work under one-year contracts. The law, however, provided no specific formula on how to proceed with the process, leaving school systems to figure it out on the fly. With a June 30 deadline to finalize a list looming, Thomasville City Schools Superintendent Dr. Maria Pitre-Martin said Hobgood's ruling ended a lot uncertainty.
“Certainly we're happy to have a decision,” Pitre-Martin said. “We had a deadline to offer contracts and as superintendents we were watching the calendar very closely to make sure we met that deadline if the law was going to stay in play. It definitely was a huge benefit for us to get an answer regarding the next steps.”
Hobgood also ruled against a 2013 law that eliminated teacher tenure completely by 2018. The N.C. Association of Educators (NCAE) followed a lawsuit against the legislation and requested support from public school systems across the state. More than 50 schools system, including TCS, Davidson County Schools and Lexington City Schools supported the suit.
In the meantime, local systems worked together to try and come up with a formula for meeting the law's requirements as the case made its way through the legal system.
“It was interesting from the beginning in that the law did not give us much specifics about how to go about the selection of the teachers,” said Pitre-Martin. “We worked closely with the superintendents in Lexington City and Davidson County schools because we wanted to at least hear what other districts were doing so that we could be somewhat comparable and equitable about how we were going through the process. Because we didn't have clear specifics at the front end from the law it really encouraged us to come together as districts and figure it out, which is what happened.”
Once Hobgood's official order is released, school systems will know what to expect moving forward in terms of new teachers coming into the profession and how career status is addressed.
“Will they not have the opportunity to receive tenure at all?” Pitre-Martin said. “These are all things we hope that order will clarify with us. The way it came out of the courtroom, it basically stated that if a teacher had tenure it would be unconstitutional to take tenure away. It made it sound as though current teachers who have tenure are the ones who are most impacted by the legal decision.”
General Assembly supporters of the the legislation claimed it provided a new way to evaluate teachers and hold them to a higher standard. Tenure is an education term referring to job protection. TCS teachers earn tenure after working four years in the school system with a clean record. Public school teachers with tenure have a right to a hearing before dismissal.
Staff Writer Eliot Duke can be reached at 888-3578, or firstname.lastname@example.org.