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Bad Law forces good people to the courtroom, again

(Baton Rouge – August 29, 2013) Trying to forestall an expected avalanche of lawsuits against local school boards, the Louisiana Federation of Teachers will ask a state judge to rule that Louisiana’s teacher tenure law violates due process guarantees in both the Louisiana and United States Constitutions.

Federation President Steve Monaghan said that his executive board has voted unanimously to amend an active lawsuit to address fatal flaws in the poorly drafted and hastily enacted Act 1 of 2012.

“A proverbial super storm is forming in school districts across our state,” said Monaghan. “It’s the product of a flawed state teacher evaluation system and revisions in due process rules that are devoid of fairness and reason.”

Monaghan said that real harm is already occurring as dozens of teacher evaluation grievances are being processed by local school systems. Many of these could ultimately result in court cases.

“Unless Act 1 is once again ruled unconstitutional,” Monaghan said, “teachers will increasingly be forced into the courtroom in district-by-district challenges. This scenario will rip communities apart and drain limited resources needed to educate children.”

“It is unfortunate that school boards will be compelled to bear the brunt of these contentious proceedings, because local administrations and local school boards did not cause this train wreck,” he said. “They are in an untenable position. They are compelled to follow the law, even bad law.”

In June of 2012, LFT challenged the constitutionality of Act 1, the so-called tenure law, and Act 2, which set up the state’s controversial school voucher scheme. Last March, 19th Judicial District Judge Michael Caldwell ruled Act 1 unconstitutional because it violated a provision that forbids bundling multiple objects in one piece of legislation.

In the Act 2 case, Judge Tim Kelley ruled that using public education funds to pay for school vouchers is unconstitutional, a decision that was upheld by the State Supreme Court.

Late in the 2013 legislative session, after affirming Judge Kelly’s ruling, the Supreme Court sent the Act 1 case back to Judge Caldwell’s court for further consideration.

The Federation will again urge Judge Caldwell to rule that Act 1 unconstitutionally bundled multiple objects into one bill. The Federation is amending its petition to include the complaint that Act 1 violates the due process rights of teachers under the Louisiana and United States Constitutions.

The lawsuit will be amended to include the following specific complaints:

  • Under Act 1 (2012), a tenured teacher accused of being ineffective or facing any other charge is afforded a hearing only after the teacher has been fired. The Act authorizes superintendents to terminate a tenured teacher before any hearing is held, which violates the basic principles of due process.
  • Under Act 1 (2012) The post-termination hearing is conducted by a three-person panel consisting of one person appointed by the superintendent, one person appointed by the teacher’s principal and one individual chosen by the teacher. The panel is decidedly weighted against the teacher. 
  • Under Act 1 (2012), the panel’s role is merely advisory and holds no authority to reverse, amend, or otherwise alter the decision of the superintendent. A toothless panel makes a mockery of an already poisoned process.

“It is well established fact that very important laws were ill conceived, poorly drafted, and hastily enacted with little public input,” Monaghan said. “As a result, there has been chaos and rancor contributing to a dramatic increase in the number of teachers leaving the profession.”

The LFT president said that lawmakers missed an opportunity to find remedies during the 2013 session, when a bill was introduced to postpone the effects of the state’s new evaluation system for one year.

“The delay would have allowed time for the legislature and state board of education to tweak or fix the evaluation system,” Monaghan said, “and allow time for cooler heads to infuse fair process into the revised tenure law.

“However, HB 160, which was unanimously approved by the House Education Committee, and passed by the full House by 102 to zero was killed by four members of the Senate Education Committee,” Monaghan said. “That single failure compels us to file our amended petition.”

Recently, a Monroe district judge ruled in favor of a Louisiana Association of Educators lawsuit claiming that the tenure provisions of Act 1 violate teacher rights.

“Consequentially, we now face potential lawsuits that no one wants in every judicial district in Louisiana,” Monaghan said. “Without a reasonable resolution, public education will get bogged down in court and the unintended consequences will be innumerable.”

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