Skeptical appeals court takes on NC law ending teacher tenure rights

Posted January 22, 2015

— A North Carolina Court of Appeals panel expressed serious doubts Thursday about the legality of a 2013 state law requiring veteran teachers to surrender their tenure rights in exchange for multi-year contracts.

Previously, teachers could earn tenure, officially called career status, after five years, which spelled out a specific list of reasons under which they could lose their jobs and gave them extra due process rights, including the right to a hearing if they were disciplined or fired.

In an effort to move North Carolina to a performance-based system for paying teachers instead of one based on longevity by 2018, lawmakers called on school districts to identify the top 25 percent of their teachers and offer them new four-year contracts with $500 annual salary increases. In exchange, those teachers would lose their career status protections.

The North Carolina Association of Educators sued to halt the law, arguing that the state couldn't arbitrarily take away the tenure rights teachers had worked to earn. A Superior Court judge agreed last year, ruling that the law violates the contract clause of the U.S. Constitution and amounts to an illegal taking of property under the state constitution.

The state and the NCAE both appealed the ruling. The state wants the 2013 law upheld, while the teachers group contends the ruling overturning it should extend to teachers who hadn't yet earned career status as of 2013 because the chance to earn career status was part of their terms of employment when they accepted their jobs.

Deputy Attorney General Melissa Tripp argued Thursday that the new law "merely changed the review periods to one, two and four years," noting that no teachers have lost their jobs because of the change.

"It's clear the state is legislating for the education of the children in North Carolina," Tripp said. "The state has a constitutional duty to be promulgating educational policy."

The skeptical judges peppered Tripp with questions about property rights, due process and legal precedents.

"With respect to someone in whom the career status is already, in a sense, vested ... it is taking away that contract for career status, isn't it?" Judge Martha Geer asked.

"Due process is still met even though they have no right to a hearing?" Judge Chris Dillon asked.

Tripp said state law also provides a number of reasons that career teachers can be dismissed, and the new law only modifies those conditions of continued employment in the teacher contracts. Local school boards, she said, still had the option of holding a hearing before a teacher is removed or demoted.

Geer remained unconvinced, however.

"We are basically making the teachers who are career-status now probationary teachers again," she said, "except that you have more than a one-year contract."

Narendra Ghosh, an attorney for the NCAE and several teachers, agreed, saying veteran teachers no longer have the right to know why they are losing their jobs.

"One of the benefits to teachers under the career status law is they knew where they stood," Ghosh said. "They could teach controversial subjects. They could advocate for their students in ways that maybe administrators wouldn't appreciate. They knew they could do those things because they weren't crossing the lines of the statute.

"Now, they don't know where they stand," he said.

NCAE President Rodney Ellis said about 56,000 of the 95,000 public school teachers in North Carolina have tenure.

"I think It’s a question of the state honoring the commitment that it made to educators and teachers," Ellis said after the court hearing. "Once you begin to eliminate those due process rights, then you’re putting them at a disadvantage, and you’re impacting whether they even remain in the profession."

School districts never had problems removing ineffective teachers before, Ghosh said, so eliminating tenure rights benefits no one. In fact, he said, it has resulted in some longtime teachers leaving the state or the profession altogether.

Judge Linda Stephens questioned the wisdom of removing a key benefit for North Carolina teachers when the state is trying to upgrade education.

"How in the world are we going to attract better teachers when, not only have they historically received extremely low salaries for being teachers in North Carolina, they've gotten no raises and now they've got no career status option?" Stephens said.


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  • delilahk2000 Jan 28, 2015


  • Objective Scientist Jan 26, 2015

    I peruse a variety of such articles and the comments posted. Some more than others, but some commentors to this one definitely seem to have those proverbial "blinders" on... that "Dam_ it! It is - EVERYTHING - is exactly the way I SEE IT, from MY perspective... and no matter what facts and evidence may be put in front of me, no matter how valid, reliable, objective it may be... you are NOT changing MY mind about anything! Com'on folks! The world would NOT be a perfect world if "liberals" would have their way on EVERYTHING, likewise it would not be perfect of "conservatives" had their way on EVERYTHING! Believe it or not! Furthermore, all conservatives do not eschew "facts", and all the "facts" as determined by liberals are not indeed facts! The problem is that BOTH sides think their particular perspective is indeed REALITY! On some issues, conservatives are correct... on others it is the liberals... and THAT is a FACT!

  • JustOneGodLessThanU Jan 26, 2015

    View quoted thread

    Lefties want fact-based evolution, fact-based man made global climate change, humanity-centric civil equality and loads of other provable things that help humanity evolve.

    Righties want only their religion taught and promoted along with tons of things based off of their religion: their idea when a human life begins, birth control without birth control, more civil rights for rich, white folks...and loads of other faith-based, anti-Golden Rule & non-provable harms to humanity.

    Look at examples of right vs. left and as an Independent, you'll find it hard to align with the special rights and unscientific desires of the Right...vs. the fact-based Left.

  • miseem Jan 25, 2015

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    They did not make it a free choice. Basically, it was either agree to this or never see another pay raise. Blackmail does not count as negotiation.

  • Bradley Green Jan 25, 2015
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    In my understanding, the law never forced teachers to do anything. They had the option of keeping their current tenure rights, or signing shorter contracts and taking a raise. I don't see how their could be a constitutional problem when nobody was forcing the teachers to do anything.

  • juliomercado Jan 24, 2015

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    You are correct and there are 14 reasons a tenured teacher can be fired WITHOUT a hearing. The public in general does not understand how basic a protection it is. NC has a teacher recruiting problem and it will get worse. This fiasco merely exasperates that problem.

  • Marty Rogers Jan 24, 2015
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    Amazing. Teachers are already grossly underpaid. The one positive aspect of the job is the stability (not a guarantee but at least stable). The people pushing for these don't realize that this isn't more than billionaires in Wall Street trying to blame the collapse of the economy on unions, teachers, public servants who had nothing whatever to do with the excesses of Wall Street and the runaway greed that is ruining this country. By incorporating teacher tenure into the narrative they provide a distraction to the masses that are hurting and are looking for someone to blame. Now we have the middle class turning on each other, while th income gap is at record levels and widening. Divide and conquer, right Koch brothers?

  • NotLiberal Jan 24, 2015

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    Thanks, Oh, since you own this forum is it OK if I continue to post or should I just cancel my membership?

  • Imma Annoid Jan 24, 2015
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    Don't confuse the masses with facts. Tenure is only for college professors, not county teachers.

  • Jim Lee Jan 24, 2015
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    1. Tenure is not (as it is in college) a guarantee of a job. "Career status" is simply a guarantee that a teacher cannot be fired without cause and a hearing.
    2. All teachers in North Carolina currently are employed on a year-to-year basis based on funding available and other factors. There is no guarantee of continued employment.