School districts across America have tough decisions to make every year. They create policies, oversee curriculum issues, and choose who to hire and fire. Wouldn’t it be nice if all of their decisions were guided by “what is best for the children”? Unfortunately, this is not the reality of the world we live in.
Looming above every decision a board of education or school district makes, is the annual budget. As moves are made to keep property taxes low, school districts find themselves looking to save money wherever they can. Sometimes this means cutting programs and teachers, even though both are desperately needed in order to provide our children with well-rounded educational experiences.
Complex education laws across the country regulate just about every aspect of the public school system. Teachers and administrators and covered by very specific sets of rules that govern their hiring, firing, evaluating, disciplining, and pay. Tenure laws, union contracts, and massive volumes of legislation govern everything you can think of when it comes to our schools and their staff. For instance, in order to terminate a teacher, there are numerous steps to follow such as issuing warnings, conducting evaluations and holding disciplinary hearings.
Procedures are in place to protect teachers in a way that sets them apart from ordinary employees. Regulations cover how teachers are paid. Strict scales based on years of employment define pay rates. The pension and insurance costs also increase each year.
Many of the best teachers are those with years of experience and, thus, can be the highest earners.
As already pointed out, terminating a teacher is difficult, especially if they have tenure. More and more districts are, instead, offering retirement incentives to the teachers who have been around for a long time. When the older, more experienced educators voluntarily retire, the district can hire replacements who are lower on the pay and cost scale. This happens with some frequency and, while it may not be beneficial for the students to lose wonderful teachers, it can be a good way for school districts to lower costs.
Consider a recent case in California: In a class action filed on behalf of nearly 2,000 teachers, the Los Angeles Unified School District has been accused of “abusing disciplinary measures to push out older teachers so the district doesn’t have to pay them retirement benefits, including pensions and health care.” In this case, the administration removed Rafe Esquith, a very well-known and beloved teacher, from his classroom, and placed him in what was referred to as “teacher jail”. The school board fired him a year later for misconduct. The lawsuit alleges that Esquith’s treatment is part of a purposeful pattern of behavior on the part of the school district to take teachers approaching retirement age, remove them from the classroom based on alleged misconduct, and place them in an administrative role or on suspended leave (“teacher jail”) pending investigation.
The lawsuit states that the teachers are not properly notified of any proceedings nor given any details of the supposed misconduct. The suit further alleges that as part of their so-called investigations, the school district inappropriately questions students and teachers in a bullying and aggressive manner. In addition, when Esquith was first removed from the classroom and placed in “teacher jail,” the school district warned him that if he spoke with anyone about the situation, he would be fired immediately.
The outcome of this case is yet to be determined, but it raises many questions about the rights of teachers. In particular, the issue of due process comes to mind. Many of the plaintiffs in the case claim that they were never informed about the basis of their alleged misconduct, or why they were being put in “teacher jail”. The case also alleges that some teachers were put in this administrative prison for up to three years and were left staring at the wall for several hours a day. Also, the district is accused of using “an investigative hit squad that goes out and intimidates and tries to extract statements from students that they then can use for kangaroo court-type proceedings.” Surely our teachers deserve better treatment than this.
Our criminal justice system provides certain rights to people who are arrested – to be charged with a specific crime, to have a speedy trial, to actively participate in their defense. There is no tolerance for forced confessions and bullying tactics to gather evidence in criminal proceedings. Shouldn’t our teachers be afforded at least the same respect and due process?
The lawsuit succinctly asks the court to “grant teachers the same due process rights they’d have if they were facing criminal charges. — the ability to know the nature of the charges and challenge their accusers.”
If you are a teacher and think you are being unlawfully “pushed” out of your job, or that your due process or contractual rights are being violated, you need to protect your rights. Call the experienced education attorneys at Leeds Brown Law, PC for a free consultation.