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Newark May Have Fired Teachers Prematurely, Ruling Indicates

An arbitrator sided recently with a teacher who was dismissed for "inefficiency" in Newark, N.J., saying that the district impermissably used her review under a pilot teacher-evaluation system as evidence of her performance.

A New Jersey law establishing that two poor evaluations are grounds for such a dismissal passed in August 2012, but was not implemented until fall of 2013, after the state education department had issued regulations fleshing out the law. It's on that basis that teacher Sandra Cheatham contested the district's attempt to fire her.

Cheatham was dismissed after two subsequent poor evaluations, in 2012-13 and 2013-14. But the first rating was given during a pilot year, and did not adhere to procedures established by the state in its regulations, she argued. 

Newark officials had argued that it had already piloted the system as early as 2011-12, and that the New Jersey legislation didn't specify that new evaluations could only carry consequences beginning in 2013-14.

But the arbitrator agreed with Cheatham and ordered her to be reinstated with back pay. 

"Simply put, the passage of TEACHNJ superseded any evaluation procedures than had been in place prior to its enactments," said Stephen M. Bluth, the arbitrator, in his Oct. 16 ruling. "Thus, in my view, the 'clock' began with the 2013-14 school year." 

What remains unclear is whether arbitrators hearing similar cases will reach the same conclusion. Arbitrators' rulings don't create precedent as a court lawsuit would, according to the New Jersey Spotlight. The Newark district sought about 50 teachers' dismissal that year and about half resigned before their hearings, the news site reported.

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