In Missouri, a school district can non-renew probationary teachers for any reason or no reason, as long as it does not use an illegal reason. Examples of possible illegal reasons are unlawful retaliation for asserting a legal right or discrimination. The Teacher Tenure Act provides that the school district must actually communicate the non-renewal in writing by April 15. If it does not do so, the teacher is presumed to have a contract for the next year on the same terms as the current year.
If non-renewed, the teacher has a right to ask for a written statement of the reason(s) for the decision. The district must respond with “a concise statement of the reason or reasons the employment of the probationary teacher is being terminated.” In practice, the statements are general and bland. A teacher could press the district to provide “concise” reasons, but that may not be in the employee’s bests interests, depending on performance, professional relationships, and so forth.
If the district wants to non-renew a teacher, it can, but does not have to, offer the teacher the opportunity to resign. If offered the opportunity, the decision by the employee whether to resign or to be non-renewed is more of a personal choice than a legal matter. The school district can not “force” a teacher to resign by using an ultimatum. It can impose a deadline for the teacher to make a decision. MSTA always encourages its members to consult with us before they make a decision in such circumstances when they are told they must resign.
Many people are concerned that a non-renewal on their record looks worse than a resignation. It might. However, there are no secrets in Missouri school law – all districts are going through the same processes at about the same time and understand that non-renewal does not necessarily indicate anything negative about a person’s performance. They also understand that a probationary teacher’s resignation in March or April might be related to a school district’s intention to non-renew a contract.
There is a general misunderstanding that an employee can not apply for unemployment if he resigns. That is not true. Anyone can apply for unemployment and explain the circumstances of the separation of employment from the school district. The unemployment administrator will determine if the resignation was in lieu of being released, and determine if there was any employee misconduct. For information on Missouri Unemployment Insurance Online Claims Filing System you can go to https://www.ui.labor.mo.gov/som. Neither the status of resignation or non-renewal alone is determinative of whether unemployment benefits are available.
If you think the district is using inappropriate reasons to make your employment decision, such as retaliation because you used FMLA for adoption of a child, or because you made a doctor-supported reasonable request for an accommodation under the Americans With Disabilities Act, give us a call. We will be happy to review the overall situation, and provide you with resources, including contact information, for the state or federal agency responsible for enforcement of the particular law, or guide you how to find a private attorney if you want to discuss a potential legal action.
If you have further questions, please contact the MSTA Legal Services Department.