Chal­lenge to law on teach­ers’ pro­tec­tions

The Denver Post - - NEWS - By Me­lanie As­mar

Are good vet­eran teach­ers still guar­an­teed jobs in Colorado, pro­vided they don’t mess up?

The Colorado Supreme Court heard ar­gu­ments Wed­nes­day on that is­sue and oth­ers re­lated to a land­mark 2010 state law that changed the rules for teacher eval­u­a­tions and as­sign­ments.

Lawyers for Den­ver Pub­lic Schools squared off against lawyers rep­re­sent­ing in­di­vid­ual teach­ers in two sep­a­rate law­suits. One case was brought on be­half of seven cur­rent and for­mer DPS teach­ers. It chal­lenges a pro­vi­sion of the 2010 law that al­lows school dis­tricts to, un­der cer­tain cir­cum­stances, put ef­fec­tive teach­ers who’ve earned job pro­tec­tions on un­paid leave.

The other case was filed by a sin­gle teacher, Lisa John­son, who was put on un­paid leave.

In both cases, lawyers for DPS ar­gued that putting ex­pe­ri­enced, ef­fec­tive teach­ers on un­paid leave is not the same as fir­ing them — and thus do­ing so doesn’t vi­o­late their due process rights.

But lawyers for the teach­ers said un­paid leave is es­sen­tially “an end run” around those rights.

To un­der­stand both law­suits, it helps to have some back­ground on the 2010 law, known as Se­nate Bill 191. It did sev­eral things, in­clud­ing change the way teach­ers earn “non-pro­ba­tion­ary sta­tus,” which af­fords them job pro­tec­tions. To earn that sta­tus, teach­ers must now have three years of ef­fec­tive rat­ings in­stead of just three years of em­ploy­ment.

Earn­ing that sta­tus is de­sir­able be­cause non-pro­ba­tion­ary teach­ers can only be fired for a lim­ited num­ber of rea­sons, in­clud­ing in­sub­or­di­na­tion and un­sat­is­fac­tory per­for­mance. In ad­di­tion, non-pro­ba­tion­ary teach­ers are en­ti­tled to a hear­ing be­fore be­ing fired.

The 2010 law also ef­fec­tively elim­i­nated a prac­tice known as “forced place­ment.” Be­fore the law, teach­ers who lost their jobs not for cause but due to cir­cum­stances such as a de­crease in stu­dent en­roll­ment were as­signed to open po­si­tions at other schools.

DPS didn’t like forced place­ment and changed its pol­icy af­ter Se­nate Bill 191 passed. The district now gives teach­ers who lose their po­si­tions tem­po­rary as­sign­ments with the ex­pec­ta­tion that they will look for “mutual con­sent” po­si­tions, mean­ing a school’s prin­ci­pal agrees to hire them.

If a teacher doesn’t find a mutual con­sent po­si­tion within 18 months, he or she is placed on un­paid leave as per Se­nate Bill 191. The teacher is wel­come to con­tinue look­ing for jobs in DPS and is en­ti­tled to his or her pre­vi­ous salary and ben­e­fits if hired.

Since Se­nate Bill 191 went into ef­fect, at least 1,113 non-pro­ba­tion­ary DPS teach­ers have lost their po­si­tions, ac­cord­ing to data the district pro­vided at Chalk­beat’s re­quest.

On Wed­nes­day, a lawyer for the teach­ers who brought the law­suit ar­gued that state law has his­tor­i­cally af­forded teach­ers a “ba­sic bar­gain:” if they work for three years and are asked to come back for a fourth, they’re en­ti­tled to job pro­tec­tions. Law­mak­ers were wrong to al­ter that un­der Se­nate Bill 191, at­tor­ney Philip Hostak told the seven jus­tices.

But DPS’s lawyer pointed out that the his­tor­i­cal idea of ten­ure no longer ex­ists — and hasn’t since law­mak­ers stripped the word from state law in 1990.

A lawyer for John­son also chal­lenged that pro­vi­sion and ar­gued that John­son shouldn’t be sub­ject to it be­cause she lost her po­si­tion for a rea­son not listed in Se­nate Bill 191.

The jus­tices typ­i­cally take months to is­sue an opin­ion.

Rib­bons con­nect In­grid En­cal­ada La­torre to mem­bers of the com­mu­nity on Wed­nes­day as she an­nounces her claim of sanc­tu­ary at a Moun­tain View Friends Meet­ing. La­torre is fac­ing de­por­ta­tion as she waits for word on her pend­ing de­por­ta­tion ap­pli­ca­tion. Joe Amon, The Den­ver Post

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