How and when do teachers acquire tenure?
Teachers who have been employed full time as teachers in the same school district for five consecutive years acquires tenure or permanent teacher status when they report to work at the beginning of their sixth consecutive year. The local school district has no discretion in whether to award or withhold tenure if these conditions are met. Nor can the district award tenure early, except as stated below.
Does it always take five years to acquire tenure in a district, or do I receive credit if I’ve taught elsewhere?
If you were employed full time as a teacher in another school system for at least two consecutive years, your current school district must waive one year of the probationary teaching requirement. You will acquire tenure after four consecutive years of full-time employment as a teacher in the same district.
When do part-time teachers acquire tenure?
Part-time teachers accrue credit toward tenure or permanent status on a prorated basis. This can result in a teacher reaching permanent status in the middle of a school year. For example, a teacher who works four-sevenths time in a district with a 180-day contract period will earn approximately 103 days of credit toward tenure for each school year he or she is employed on the same schedule. Thus, the teacher would acquire tenure in the district on the 132nd day of his or her ninth consecutive contract with the district.
Do tenured teachers need to sign a new contract each year?
No, although many school districts do issue new contracts to all teachers each year for bookkeeping purposes. Once you have acquired tenure in a school district, you have an indefinite contract with the district, which continues in effect until it is modified or terminated in accordance with the statutes. Changes by the board to the beginning date, length of school year and salary schedule are automatically incorporated into your indefinite contract. The district must provide you written notice of those changes within 30 days after they are adopted by the school board. In many districts, this takes the form of a letter of intent. Any other modification of the contract can only be by mutual consent of the teacher and the school board.
If a tenured teacher signs a contract in April or May, may he or she terminate employment for the next year without the board’s permission?
A tenured teacher who wishes to terminate a contract at the end of a school term may do so by giving written notice to the district of his or her intention to do so on or before June 1 of that year. MSTA’s Legal Department and several respected law firms representing Missouri school districts take the position that even if a tenured teacher has signed a contract earlier in the spring, he or she may still terminate the contract for the next year without board permission or penalty by giving written notice on or before June 1. No Missouri court cases have addressed this question definitively.
Under what circumstances can a tenured teacher’s employment be terminated involuntarily?
- If the teacher has a physical or mental condition that renders him or her unfit to instruct or associate with children.
- For immoral conduct.
- For incompetence, inefficiency or insubordination in the line of duty.
- For willful or persistent violation of Missouri’s school laws or the local school district’s published policies or regulations.
- For excessive or unreasonable absences.
- For conviction of a felony or a crime of moral turpitude.
Must a school district always give a tenured teacher 30 days to improve before beginning termination proceedings?
No. In the case of termination on the basis of charges of incompetence, inefficiency or insubordination, the district must first give the teacher written warning at least 30 days before it serves notice of charges and termination proceedings. The warning must state the specific problems that, if not removed or resolved within the allotted time (no less than 30 days), will result in charges seeking termination. This written warning has come to be known as a “30-day letter.” After delivery of the warning, the superintendent or a designated representative must meet and confer with the teacher in an effort to resolve the matter. In all other circumstances, the school board is not required to provide an improvement period and can proceed immediately with charges and termination proceedings.
What due process are tenured teachers entitled to before their employment can be terminated involuntarily?
A school board cannot terminate a teacher’s indefinite contract until after it has served the teacher with written charges specifying the grounds it believes exist for termination and notice of the right to a hearing. A teacher who wants a hearing must request it within 10 days of receiving the notice and charges. If no request for hearing is made within 10 days, the board may, by majority vote, terminate the contract. The school board may suspend a teacher while termination proceedings are pending, but it must continue to pay the teacher’s salary during a suspension.
At a termination hearing, the teacher may be represented by legal counsel and may cross examine witnesses called by the board against the teacher. The teacher may subpoena witnesses to appear and testify on his or her behalf, but the board may limit the teacher to ten witnesses. By statute, termination hearings are open to the public. The school board must pay all costs of the proceeding except for the teacher’s attorney fees, if any. The board has seven days after it receives the hearing transcript to render its decision, and it must provide a written decision to the teacher within three days after the vote.
Can a teacher acquire tenure with respect to extra duties such as coaching?
No. Missouri courts have held that a school board may unilaterally modify or terminate extra- or extended-duty contracts and that the protections of the Teacher Tenure Act do not apply. There is no property interest in continued employment under an extra- or extended-duty contract.
Are probationary teachers entitled to due process before their contracts can be terminated?
Yes. Missouri law requires procedural due process before a probationary teacher’s contract can be terminated involuntarily during the term of the contract. A probationary teacher in the midst of a contract term has a property interest in completing the contract term. It is that interest that entitles the teacher to due process before he or she can be terminated, but the Teacher Tenure Act does not clearly articulate what level of procedural protections are required. A teacher who is deemed to be doing “unsatisfactory work,” must receive a written statement describing the problem(s) in order to give him a chance to “correct his fault and overcome his incompetency.” After 90 days, if the teacher does not make satisfactory improvement, the board can vote to terminate the contract immediately or at the end of the school year. The statute does not specify exact notice and hearing requirements to be followed to terminate a probationary teacher’s employment during the term of the contract, but in practice, most school districts follow a procedure similar to that afforded tenured teachers.
There is an important legal and procedural distinction between the termination of a probationary teacher’s contract during its term and the nonrenewal of a probationary teacher’s contract for the following year. Unlike permanent teachers, who have indefinite contracts that can only be terminated for specific reasons, probationary teachers are employed by a series of separate one year contracts. The board may decide for any reason not to renew a teacher’s contract the next year. A school district may not base its decision not to renew a probationary teacher’s contract on an unlawful discriminatory reason. The teacher is entitled to request written reasons for the non-renewal, but there is no entitlement to a hearing before the board.
Is a school district required to notify a probationary teacher if it does not intend to renew his or her contract for the next school year?
Yes. A school district must notify a probationary teacher in writing on or before April 15 if the teacher’s contract will not be renewed for the following year. Any teacher who is not notified by the school district that her contract was not renewed is deemed to be rehired for the next year. Keep in mind that the board has the final authority to offer a contract or to decide not to renew it. Principals and superintendents make recommendations, but they do not have the final say.
When must probationary teaching contracts be issued and returned?
Statute requires school boards to issue contracts to probationary teachers who are being rehired by May 15. A probationary teacher has 15 days to sign and return her contract. Failure to do so constitutes a rejection of the board’s offer.
Can a teacher be demoted without due process?
The Teacher Tenure Act defines demotion as any reduction in salary or transfer to a lower salaried position unless requested by the teacher or unless the salary reduction is applicable to all teachers in the same classification. In addition, cases interpreting the act have deemed it a demotion if a teacher is retained at the same salary while other teachers in the same classification are awarded raises. A school district may not take such action unless it first provides the teacher notice of the action it intends to take, its reasons for proposing the action and an opportunity to be heard by the school board.
What limitations are there on a school district’s ability to discontinue programs or reduce staff for economic reasons?
Missouri law permits a school district to place teachers on unrequested, unpaid leave of absence because of decreased pupil enrollment, district reorganization or the district’s financial condition. Budget cuts and payment withholdings from the state have triggered wide usage of this authority by Missouri school districts in the past two years. There are few guidelines in the law governing these decisions. Both probationary and tenured teachers may be placed on leave, subject to certain limitations:
- A tenured teacher may not be placed on leave if there is a probationary teacher in a position for which the tenured teacher is qualified.
- In determining which tenured teachers to retain, performance-based evaluations and seniority must be considered, but seniority cannot be controlling.
- Tenured teachers must be reinstated to positions for which they are qualified as positions become available.
- No new teachers may be hired to fill existing vacancies while qualified teachers remain available on leave.
- Teachers placed on leave may secure interim employment without losing the right to reinstatement.
- A tenured teacher’s permanent status is not impaired by being placed on leave.
- The leave for permanent teachers shall continue for up to three years.
Besides the Teacher Tenure Act, what other limits are there on a local school board’s authority?
Missouri law grants local school boards and board members broad powers and discretion in the management of school affairs, including such issues as hiring, firing, and fixing employee compensation and salary schedules. There is a strong presumption of validity in favor of school board decisions, and courts are reluctant to interfere unless there is clear and convincing evidence the board acted in an arbitrary, capricious or unreasonable manner or abused its discretion. Of course, the board must comply with Missouri’s Sunshine Laws in the conduct of all board business, meetings and recordkeeping, and the board is obligated to follow its own published policies. Failure by a school board to follow its own policies can serve as the basis for the filing of a grievance.
Can principals or other supervisors acquire tenure or permanent status?
No. Principals or other persons in primarily non-teaching supervisory positions cannot acquire tenure in those positions. However, a principal who has achieved permanent teacher status before being promoted to a principal or other administrative position retains tenure as a teacher. In addition, anyone who was ever a permanent teacher in any district can acquire permanent teacher status in another district if employed two or more years in a principal’s or other supervisory position.
What rights, if any, do principals and supervisory employees have in continued employment with a school district?
The rights of a principal or other supervisory employee are similar to those of probationary teachers. They must be notified in writing on or before April 15 if the school board does not intend to reemploy them in the same position for the coming school year. Failure to provide the notice constitutes reemployment on the same terms for the next year. The school board must issue contracts to those principals and supervisors whom it intends to reemploy on or before May 15, and the contracts must be signed and returned within 15 days after receipt or the offer of employment is deemed to be rejected.
Do long-time principals have any right to reasons or a hearing if they are notified that their contract will not be renewed?
Yes. If principals or other supervisors have been reemployed in the same position five times and then are notified that they will not be reemployed in the same position in the coming year, they may, within 10 days after receiving the notice of non-renewal, request written reasons from the board for the non-renewal. Within 10 days after receiving the written reasons, they may request a hearing before the board for the purpose of persuading the board to reconsider its decision.
What rights or protections do non-certified school district employees have?
Certified employees of school districts are required by statute to have contracts of employment. Other district employees do not have contracts or may have contracts that do not contain a definite term of employment. These employees are referred to as “at-will” employees.
At-will employees may be terminated at any time without cause and without being given due process. Conversely, at-will employees may quit at any time because they are not obligated to fulfill a specific term of employment.
If a district does enter into a contract for a specified term with a noncertified employee — either by formal agreement, board policy or other binding arrangement — the employee is entitled to a hearing before he or she can be discharged during the term of the contract. Under these circumstances the district must have cause to terminate the employee.
Since employment for a specified term is not at-will, the employee must complete the agreed to duration of employment. As with probationary teachers, there are ordinarily no due process requirements if the district declines to rehire a non-certified employee at the end of the contract term.