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State Supreme Court rules retroactive application of teacher tenure repeal is unconstitutional

State-Supreme-Court-400The state Supreme Court ruled unanimously today that the repeal of North Carolina’s teacher tenure law could not be retroactively applied to those teachers who had already achieved that status.

“We conclude that repeal of the Career Status Law unlawfully infringes upon the contract rights of those teachers who had already achieved career status,” Justice Robert Edmunds wrote for the Court. “As a result, we hold that sections 9.6 and 9.7 are unconstitutional, though only to the extent that the Act retroactively applies to teachers who had attained career status as of 26 July 2013.”

Under North Carolina’s “Career Status Law,” teachers in their first four years were deemed “probationary” and employed year-to-year under annual contracts. At the end of the four-year period, they became eligible for career status, giving them rights to continuing contracts and due process protections from arbitrary or unjustified dismissals.

In summer 2013, lawmakers enacted a repeal of that law in an effort to rid the state of tenure by 2018, saying that it enabled bad teachers to stay in the system.

They eliminated tenure for teachers who had not reached career status by August 2013 and revoked career status for all teachers by July 2018.

As an enticement for already-tenured teachers to act sooner, lawmakers also required local school boards to offer 25 percent of them temporary 4-year contracts with annual raises of $500 in exchange for giving up their tenure rights early.

In May 2014, Superior Court Judge Robert H. Hobgood ruled that the revoking of tenure for teachers who’d already reached career status was unconstitutional, as was the “25 percent” plan, which Hobgood said included no standards to guide school districts and served no public purpose.

As to teachers who had not yet achieved career status, though, Hobgood found that they had no protectable contract rights and thus could not challenge the repeal.

In June 2015, the Court of Appeals largely agreed with Hobgood’s ruling, with Judge Chris Dillon issuing a separate opinion in which he agreed only with the lower court’s finding that tenured teachers had property rights warranting a hearing in the event they were dismissed (something the repeal did not allow).

Read the Supreme Court’s full opinion here.

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