New Teacher Legal Questions

What do I need to know about my contract?

Your contract is a legally binding document that obligates you and the school district that hired you. Before you sign it, pay close attention to:

  • Current placement (step plus hours) on salary schedule.
  • Salary amount, payment schedule, benefits (per existing board policy).
  • BOARD POLICY! Especially provisions regarding early release. It is incorporated into your contract, so you’ve agreed to it whether you’ve read it or not.
  • Any extra duties that may be required of you.

What do I need to know about probationary teachers and non-renewal?

A school board may decide not to renew a probationary teacher’s contract at the end of the school year for any reason or for no reason. To do so, the board must provide the teacher with written notice of its decision not to renew the probationary contract on or before April 15 of the current year. A probationary teacher who is given proper notice of non-renewal is not entitled to a due process hearing.

A probationary teacher who is notified by the school district that his or her performance is deficient and who the school district desires to terminate during the school year is entitled under state law to minimal due process, including an opportunity in some cases to cure the deficiency and an opportunity for a due process hearing.

When do I achieve tenure?

You will ordinarily achieve tenure in a school district when you begin working on your sixth consecutive contract in the district. If you have two or more consecutive years of prior experience in another school district, your district must waive one year of your probationary period, and you will achieve tenure upon beginning to work on your fifth contract.

School Board Policy – Can they do that?

Local school boards have broad discretion to establish policy (including salary and benefits policies) for their districts, and administrators have broad discretion in how they implement those policies. There are very few laws that dictate how they should do their jobs or that place limits on their discretion.

However, the school board and the administration must comply with their own written board policies. Frequently, after a board or administrator takes an unpopular or unfavorable action, a teacher will call MSTA, tell us what happened, and ask the question “Can they do that?” The answer is “Maybe. What does local board policy say about the issue?” If board policy dictates a particular course of action, it must be followed, but if board policy does not address the issue, the administrator may well be operating within his or her legal limits. When you find yourself asking the question “Can they do that?” the first thing to do is to check your local board policy to see what it says about the problem.

What should I do when there’s trouble?

Document, document, document. When something goes wrong (if a student gets hurt; if you have a confrontation with a student, parent, colleague or administrator; if you receive a job target or are faced with disciplinary action; if you observe an accident or other extraordinary occurrence) regardless of the situation, at your first opportunity, document the event. Write it down. Who was involved or present as a witness? What happened? When did it occur? Where did it occur? Why did you take the action you did or react in the manner you did? How did the events unfold? You may never need this information, but if you get into the habit of recording this information, it will be there in the rare situation when you do have to explain things later.

Go through the chain of command. The “chain of command” is a military phrase that has been coined to describe the hierarchy of authority within an organization. As a teacher, the building principal is usually your immediate supervisor; the principal’s immediate supervisor is usually the superintendent; and the superintendent’s immediate supervisor is the local Board of Education. If you have a disagreement or problem with a co-worker or supervisor, address the issue first with the person directly. Yes, it can be uncomfortable. No, it isn’t easy. But it is always the place to start.

Never go over anyone’s head until you have first given the person who is the subject of the dispute an opportunity to resolve the issue themselves. Always try to resolve disputes at the lowest administrative level first. Even if the direct encounter fails to resolve the problem, your credibility with the next-level administrator(s) will be greatly enhanced if you resist the urge to do an end-run around the chain of command.

Call your MSTA field service coordinator or the MSTA Legal Services Department to find out your rights in the situation and suggestions on the best course of action you may take to protect yourself.

Visit Bunker Hill in 2019
Last updated by on August 6, 2018
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