Raleigh, N.C. — A three-judge panel of the North Carolina Court of Appeals has upheld a lower-court ruling that lawmakers unconstitutionally tried to force K-12 public school teachers to give up career status rights, or what some people call tenure.
The ruling stems from a Superior Court ruling issued a year ago in a lawsuit brought by the North Carolina Association of Educators, the state's largest teacher group.
In the opinion issued Tuesday morning, Judge Linda Stephens found that teachers who already had achieved career status had a vested right in those protections.
"The State’s argument that Plaintiffs’ constitutional rights have not been violated because they retain the same due process protections under the Career Status Repeal fails because it is patently false," Stephens wrote.
However, the court also found that a teacher who had not achieved tenure at the time of the suit did not have standing to bring her complaint to the court.
The General Assembly has since backed away from the tenure-for-pay swap, but lawmakers may still be interested in the outcome of the suit for future legislation. The court's split decision could be appealed to the state Supreme Court.
Rodney Ellis, president of NCAE, said his organization was pleased with the decision to uphold the tenure rights of veteran teachers but said NCAE could appeal the loss of younger teachers' ability to earn those rights.
"Career status is a critical tool to recruit and retain quality educators, just like fair compensation and working and learning conditions,” Ellis said in a statement. “We need to ensure all teachers can focus on educating our kids and helping them be successful and not worried about arbitrary disciplinary actions by administrators outside of the classroom."