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Judge: Law Repealing Teacher Tenure Is Unconstitutional

Gavel, Court
SalFalko via Flickr, Creative Commons

 A Wake County superior court judge ruled Friday that a state law ending teacher tenure is unconstitutional, arguing the state cannot take away the due process rights of teachers.  

Judge Robert Hobgood ordered a permanent injunction against the law, which would eliminate career status – commonly known as teacher tenure – by 2018. His ruling also said that the law violated the constitutional protection of contracts, and the prohibition against taking a person’s property.

The law, passed in 2013, also required school districts to offer one-year contracts to most teachers, while offering the top 25-percent of teachers four-year contracts and a $500 annual pay raise. 

Hobgood said that the 25 percent mandate “provides no discernible, workable standards to guide local boards of education and their superintendents.” The North Carolina Association of Educators, which filed the lawsuit against the state, says the ruling means school boards do not have to  comply with any part of the law, including the 25 percent rule.

The Lawsuit

North Carolina law has guaranteed teachers career status for more than 45 years. Unlike traditional tenure, career status does not guarantee lifetime job security to teachers, but does promise certain job protections, like the right to a hearing if a teacher is either demoted or fired.

Last summer, Republican legislators voted to do away with those protections, arguing that it would help weed out ineffective teachers. Senate Leader Phil Berger cited data from the last school year that says only 17 out of the 95,028 teachers were dismissed for cause.

The North Carolina Association of Educators, along with six teachers, filed a lawsuit challenging the law in late 2013. They argued that the repeal of career status violates federal and state constitutions by taking away basic due process rights.

‘A Great Day For NC Educators’

NCAE President Rodney Ellis praised Friday’s ruling and the judge’s support, saying that it speaks volumes to the way the policy was passed.

“This [teaching] is not some fly-by night job. This is a career that we invest from college into our classrooms and we want to be respected,” he said. “We deserve to be respected and this is the issue at hand.”

Guilford County and Durham school boards filed a separate suits against the law earlier this year. A judge ruled last week that the school boards do not have to issue new teacher contracts to a selected, top 25 percent of educators.  This most recent ruling, however, applies to all school boards.

The judge’s ruling does not apply to teachers who have not yet earned career status, which is attained after four years of work. That means, under current law, new teachers will never earn career status, while veteran or more experienced teachers will be able to hold on to theirs.

NCAE leaders and attorneys say they hope to appeal that part of the decision.

Senator Phil Berger says the state will also move to quickly appeal the most recent decision.

“Today a single Wake County judge suppressed the will of voters statewide who elected representatives to improve public education and reward our best teachers with raises,” he said in a statement. 

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