Raleigh, N.C. — The North Carolina Association of Educators is continuing its legal challenges to laws adopted by the General Assembly this year.
A week after filing a lawsuit over the state's new voucher program to help low-income students attend private schools, the teachers organization and six individual teachers on Tuesday filed a lawsuit over a provision in the state budget that eliminated the "career status" protections afforded to veteran teachers.
“Career status repeal is part of a full frontal assault by the legislative majority on public education in North Carolina,” NCAE President Rodney Ellis said in a statement. “It’s part of a full frontal assault on the teachers, the children, the families and the future of our state. No wonder teachers are leaving our state in droves.”
Under career status, commonly referred to as tenure, teachers were given extra due process rights, including the right to a hearing if they were disciplined or fired.
Bill Harrison, a former chairman of the State Board of Education, said legislative leaders are relying on a common misconception about tenure to build support for the move.
“The notion that career status makes it impossible to get rid of under-performing teachers is a myth,” Harrison said in a statement. “We need to be concerned about keeping the excellent teachers we have.”
Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger, who initially crafted the tenure elimination proposal, and House Speaker Thom Tillis quickly labeled the lawsuit "frivolous," noting that teachers will now be rewarded for job performance instead of having a tenure system that "fosters mediocrity and discourages excellence."
“By filing another frivolous lawsuit, the union has made its blueprint clear: ‘If at first you don’t succeed at the polls, then sue, sue again,’" Berger and Tillis said in a statement. "While union leaders are focused on succeeding in the courtroom, we’ll remain focused on our children succeeding in the classroom.”
Several Triangle-area teachers are among the plaintiffs in the lawsuit: Brian Link, who teaches at East Chapel Hill High School, Rich Nixon, who teaches in Johnston County, and Rhonda Holmes, who teaches in Northampton County.
Link, who worked as a lawyer in New York before getting into teaching, said he chose to work in North Carolina instead of Florida because of this state's career protections for teachers.
"I believed this state respected and valued its teachers,” he said in a statement. “Now, three years into my career, I will have none of those basic employment rights that first made me want to come here.”
Nixon, who has taught history for 34 years, said the state is backing out of a key protection upon which teachers rely.
"Teaching is an honorable profession. North Carolina should do the honorable thing – live up to its promise and uphold the contract it made with me in 1978," he said.
NCAE attorney Ann McColl said "fundamental constitutional principles are being compromised" in the elimination of career status. She noted that neither it nor the voucher proposal were able to pass the General Assembly as standalone bills, so they were tucked into the budget, which was hammered out behind closed doors with no public input and little debate.