Court upholds law ending tenure


National News

June 17, 2018 - 11:00 PM

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas law that stripped public school teachers of guaranteed tenure doesn’t violate the state or federal constitution because legislators had the power to modify or end the policy, the state Supreme Court declared Friday.

The court ruled against two veteran teachers who sued their rural school district after it did not renew their contracts in May 2015. They argued that the Republican-controlled Legislature deprived them of a property right through an expedited process for passing the law in 2014 that violated their right to due legal process.

Teachers with more than three years in the classroom previously had the right to be informed in writing why their contracts were not being renewed and to have such decisions reviewed by an independent hearing officer. Local school boards now set their own policies, and education groups have said a third or less of the state’s 286 school districts have some protections for teachers.

The Supreme Court disagreed that tenure represented a property right that could not be modified or removed by lawmakers. The earlier version of the law explicitly said as much.

“The legislative process itself generally provides all the process that is due when the legislation results in a complete or partial deprivation of property interests of more than a few individuals,” Justice Marla Luckert wrote for the court.

In May 2015, the 284-student Flinthills school district in Butler County notified teachers Sallie Scribner and Mark McNemee that their contracts would not be renewed after 18 years and 16 years with the district, respectively.

“This sets a precedent that ought to frighten anyone who owns a property right,” said David Schauner, general counsel for the Kansas National Education Association, which represented Scribner and McNemee. “The opinion offends me. It is inconsistent with this notion of the opportunity to be heard.”

Conservative Republicans sought to end guaranteed tenure, arguing the move would make it easier to fire bad teachers. Other lawmakers and the KNEA, the state’s largest teachers’ union, said tenure protected educators from arbitrary dismissals.

Conservatives folded the repeal into legislation boosting the state’s aid to poor school districts without public hearings on ending tenure. Lawmakers moved so quickly that the Supreme Court acknowledged the window for protesting was “small if not nonexistent.”

However, the justices said provisions in the state and federal constitutions protecting the right to due legal process did not require lawmakers to have public hearings. Even in the speeded-up process, the court said, both legislative chambers had an opportunity to debate the proposal.

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