There are different legal categories of teachers and contracts which impact this. For instance, if you are a teacher in a private or charter school you may be an at-will employee and thus be able to terminate your contract with two weeks’ notice to your employer.
If you are a public school teacher and are in a probationary status, you have a contract for one year which may or may not be renewed by the school district. During the term of your one year contract, you are required to fulfill the obligations during that year and may not get out of your contract with the exception of the discussion that follows below.
The contracts of probationary teachers generally are renewed in the early spring by the school board, frequently at the March school board meeting. If the Board votes to renew your contract, you may sign it and agree to return for another year, or not sign it and be free to go look for other jobs. If a school district is not going to renew a probationary teacher’s contract, the district must notify a probationary teacher in writing by the 15th day of April of the current year that the teacher will not be retained. If there is any reason why a probationary teacher did not receive notice that he or she will be rehired for the following year, or is not notified by April 15 that the employment will not be renewed, then the probationary teacher is deemed to have a contract for the following year under the same terms and conditions as the current year. However, the probationary teacher is not bound to accept the contract, and is not bound by it until the teacher signs the document.
If you are a tenured teacher in public schools in Missouri, you have what is termed an indefinite contract. The contract will exist year after year for an indefinite period of time. During any given year of the indefinite period, certain terms of the contract may be changed by law, or by mutual agreement. However, the teachers’ rights to the contract still exist.
In just about every type of contract of which I can think, if a party to the contract does not perform the terms and conditions he or she is expected to perform, it may be a breach of the contract and the person may be sued for breach of contract. For teachers in the state of Missouri, however, there is an extra kicker penalty.
The State Board of Education may refuse to issue or renew a certificate of license to teach or it may discipline by suspension or revocation or other manner the holder of a certificate of license to teach for, among other reasons, annulling of a written contract. This usually occurs under circumstances where a teacher under contract leaves the district without the consent of the majority of the members of the board. Blacks Law Dictionary defines annul as a verb meaning to cancel, make void, destroy, or deprive something of all force and operation. The usual context in which annulment of a contract is used in application to teacher situations is when a teacher is trying to get out of an existing contract with the school district and decides to leave without board approval.
By way of illustration, some of the reasons a teacher might want to get out of an existing contract is because he has obtained at an employment offer from another district that he wishes to accept. A teacher may have a spouse who is in the military services and the teacher spouse wishes to relocate with the military spouse. A teacher may have a close family member who is ill and needs assistance of some kind; the teacher needs to give up employment in order to take care of that close family member. There may be instances where childcare arrangements no longer fit the family: new children arriving by birth, adoption, blended marriage, or some other means may change the demands on the teacher such that it is necessary to stop working to attend to the needs of the children. And last but not least, there is a situation where there are coworkers who do not see eye to eye on how the teacher should be performing his or her job. The unhappiness or unpleasantness at the worksite is such that the teacher wishes to quit work.
Under any of the above illustrations or any number of others that you may conjure, the employee will need to follow the school district board policy for release from the existing contract in order to avoid any disciplinary action by the state against the teachers certificate of license to teach. These policies vary from district to district. Any teacher who wishes to be relieved from the obligations of an existing contract must make sure that the particular policy of the particular district where the person is employed is followed to relieve the teacher of the contractual obligations.
Most of you are generally familiar with the provisions of the policies that apply to release a teacher from an existing contract. There are three-four general requirements which apply in most districts to allow release from contractual obligations. The common ones, which may apply singularly or in any combination of multiple factors, are that a financial sum must be paid to the district to cover the cost of searching and replacing the position; a suitable replacement actually must be found; certain serious family changes require release from work; or simply that the Board has the discretion to decide who may be released. School board policies vary greatly, as I mentioned above, and may include any of these factors, all of these factors, or completely different factors of which I’m not aware.
The most important thing to remember is that if you are looking for employment elsewhere and are offered the teaching job of a lifetime or the job of your dreams, you cannot act impulsively and sign the new contract. You may be an optimist and think that when you inform your current school board, they will be as happy as you are about your new job. Frequently it does not work that way. Frequently, your current school district is not at all inclined to release you from your contractual obligations under conditions which may not be favorable to it.
Consider that if the current district were to be so rigid as to absolutely refuse to allow you release from your existing contract, and the new district has reasons of its own not to release you from the contract you just signed, it is pretty clear that you cannot be in two places at once and you won’t be anywhere at all – except in trouble with DESE and possibly paying for two breach of contract lawsuits.
So what’s the teacher to do? The first thing you should do is make sure you read the board policy for the district where you currently are employed to determine what factors will apply to allow you to be released from your contract. If it appears that you meet it and you do have the potential of a job offer or an actual offer pending, you should please contact the MSTA Legal Services department so we can help ensure that your interpretation of the existing policy is correct and that you will be able to transition smoothly to new employment.
All of the above discussion does not mean that you are unable to change jobs even if you are contractually obligated in one district. The discussion means that you must know your school district board policies and be able to apply it to your situation so that you can legally and appropriately be released from that contract and be able to move on to the new position that you so desire.
In summary, the key steps are:
- read your school district’s board policy on release from your existing contract so you know what criteria you will have to meet in order to obtain the release;
- do not sign a second contract until you have formal approval that you have been released from your existing school contract;
- contact MSTA Legal Services to help you analyze the policies, the totality of the situation, and to have us speak on your behalf or otherwise assist you in this process.
If any of this information applies to you, I wish you luck and success and happiness. It is very difficult and rewarding to find the job of your dreams. If you find yours, we will do everything we can to help you to obtain that position.