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Court: Laid-Off Chicago Teachers Have Recall Rights

A federal appeals court ruled on Tuesday that tenured Chicago teachers who were laid off last year for economic reasons have a due-process right to show they are qualified for vacancies in the school district.

A panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, in Chicago, voted 2-1 to mostly uphold a federal district court injunction backing the claims of the nearly 1,300 laid-off teachers and the Chicago Teachers Union.

"The teachers contend that they are entitled to a recall procedure," says the majority opinion by Judge Ann Claire Williams, in Chicago Teachers Union v. Board of Education of the City of Chicago. "We agree. The teachers should be given a meaningful opportunity to show that they are qualified for new vacancies for a reasonable period of time."

The opinion didn't define a "reasonable period of time." The court noted that more than 700 of the teachers have already been rehired to fill vacancies in the 409,000-student school system. But all the laid-off teachers have a property interest in their continued employment that is protected by the due-process clause of the 14th Amendment, the court said. Illinois statutory and case law limit the Chicago school board's discretion on whether it may make layoffs without a recall procedure, the court added.

It wasn't enough that the school district offered laid-off teachers two job fairs, a resume-writing workshop, and a Web site listing vacancies, the court said. The appeals panel agreed with the district court that the school district should be allowed to develop its own recall procedure rather than have one imposed by the court. But it narrowed the injunction by removing a requirement that the district consult with the teachers' union on the procedure.

"Although consultation with the union may expedite the process of promulgating the rules, there is nothing in [the relevant state law] that requires cooperation with the union, and we decline to impose such a requirement," Judge Williams said.

Judge Daniel A. Manion dissented on the main issue of whether the teachers had recall rights.

"Here, the teachers are all laid off," Judge Manion said. "In the board's words, they have been honorably discharged. The point is they no longer have a job, and the process they are owed under the Due Process Clause has been honored—the teachers have not claimed they were laid off without due process. No property rights followed the teachers out the door."

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