NC Supreme Court Hears Arguments Over Teacher Tenure

Feb 15, 2016

The North Carolina Supreme Court will likely have an opinion on teacher tenure within six months.
Credit Jess Clark

The North Carolina Supreme Court heard arguments Monday in the state's fight to get rid of teacher tenure.

The North Carolina Association of Educators (NCAE) sued the state after the General Assembly did away teacher tenure in 2013.

Tenure in North Carolina means a teacher can still be fired, but has the right to notice of dismissal and an explanation of the reasons for dismissal, as well as the right to a hearing with the local school board before termination. Before 2013, teachers became eligible for tenure, or "career status," after four years of service.

"I've had [termination] cases come through our building because an administrator didn't like their perfume, or terminated them...[in order] to hire a cousin or aunt or someone."

NCAE president Rodney Ellis says the right to a hearing allows teachers facing dismissal a chance to be heard before an impartial body.

"I've had [termination] cases come through our building because an administrator didn't like their perfume, or terminated them...[in order] to hire a cousin or aunt or someone," Ellis said in an interview.

Two lower courts sided with the teachers' group that stripping tenure from those who had already earned it would be an unconstitutional taking of their property rights. The lower courts did however, rule that the state could end tenure eligibility for teachers who had not yet earned it.

"[The NCAE's] advocacy for maintaining the status quo does not override the State's fundamental constitutional interest in improving the opportunity for a sound, basic education by increasing teacher quality."

The state has appealed to North Carolina's highest court, saying getting rid of tenure is not a breach of contract, and that it raises teacher quality. 

"[The NCAE's] advocacy for maintaining the status quo does not override the State’s fundamental constitutional interest in improving the opportunity for a sound, basic education by increasing teacher quality," the state's lawyers wrote in their brief.

The NCAE argues again that tenure was part of the deal teachers accepted when they were hired.

"The career status protections are valuable employment benefits on which the plaintiff teachers reasonably relied when making their career decisions," the NCAE's lawyers' wrote in their brief.

Lawyers expect a ruling within six months.

The N.C. Supreme Court's ruling will only affect the career status of teachers who already have tenure, and will not likely change the fact that tenure is no longer available for future teachers. Ellis says even if veteran teachers maintain their status, losing tenure for new teachers was a blow to the state's recruitment efforts.

"It's one of the best ways that we can attract and retain the best and brightest educators for our students," he said.