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New Orleans Teachers Improperly Dismissed, Court Rules

Teachers who were laid off after Hurricane Katrina devastated the city and its school system were improperly dismissed because they were later not given preference for rehiring, a Louisiana appeals court ruled last week.

The decision validates part of a lower-court ruling siding with the teachers and against the Orleans Parish school board. It also holds the state partially responsible, though the penalities were lighter than under the earlier ruling. All told, the class action settlement could end up costing $1.5 billion, reports the Times-Picayune. 

About 7,000 teachers were first put on disaster leave and ultimately laid off after the storm. When the state began to reopen schools through its Recovery School District, it greatly expanded the number of charters, many of whom made their own hiring decisions. In doing so, the state violated the school board's policy regarding teacher' "recall rights," in which teachers who are laid off have the first right of rehire when positions open up again, the court ruled. 

It also noted that the state hired teachers from out of town through Teach For America and other such programs. That's created tensions that linger to this day. 

The state became liable for the teachers when it assumed control of schools through the Recovery School District, the ruling says.

In one of the ruling's most interesting elements, the court found that state and board's failure to recalled not only violated board policy, but also tenured teachers' vested property rights in their employment, as guaranteed by the state constitution. 

Teachers are now owed up to three years of back pay, reduced from the original five, plus some benefits, the newspaper noted. 

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