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North Carolina's Anti-Tenure Law Is Unconstitutional, State Court Rules

UPDATED

A North Carolina superior-court judge has ruled that a 2013 law dismantling the state's system of granting "career status" for teachers is unconstitutional, the Associated Press reports. 

The law abolished continuing contracts for teachers holding career status—the North Carolina equivalent of tenure—by 2018-19 in favor of a system in which teachers would receive one-, two-, or four-year contracts.

In the meantime, districts were expected to offer four-year contracts to a quarter of their teachers, along with pay boosts worth $5,000 overall. Those provisions have been deeply unpopular among teachers and administrators alike, as I reported last month for Education Week. 

The suit was filed by the North Carolina Education Association on behalf of several members. Superior Court Judge Robert Hobgood, AP reported, ruled that the law violates teachers' employment contracts with boards, and that tenured teachers in the state have a property interest in their tenure status—an interesting wrinkle because case law on this matter differs across the states. Teachers are also entitled to a hearing, he ruled.

The ruling comes just a few weeks after a different judge granted a preliminary injunction to two districts, freeing them from the pay mandate. Those districts had filed a separate lawsuit against the law. 

Hobgood's ruling is almost certain to be appealed; the law's sponsor quickly decried the ruling, while the state's teachers' association praised it.

Update: Thanks to an NCEA memo, we now know how the ruling will shake out vis-a-vis the law's many parts. In sum: 

  • The judge declared the revocation of career status for teachers who already had it unconstitutional; 
  • He also issued a permanent injunction against the 25% pay mandate;
  • However, the judge throw out the argument that probationary teachers also have a vested right to career status, so those teachers will not be eligible for tenure.
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