Most states have laws that protect public school teachers from arbitrary termination once they have attained tenure. Usually, teachers are required to remain employed for a probationary period, and once that period runs its course, they will automatically be tenured. In other states, after a performance review, the local school board will grant the teacher tenure.

What is Tenure?

Tenure indicates that a teacher has achieved an employment status that protects him or her from being terminated without showing sufficient cause. Tenure also means that the teacher’s employment contract is indefinite, and will automatically renew each year.

When is a Teacher Eligible for Tenure?

Prior to attaining tenure, most tenure statutes require a probationary period of employment for teachers. Usually, this is a set amount of years, and after a teacher has remained employed for those required years, they will automatically earn tenure.

As mentioned earlier, some states grant the local school board the authority to grant tenure to teachers, usually following a performance review.

Subject to contractual and constitutional restrictions, teachers who are on probation may be terminated as the school district sees fit. Most likely, the laws that apply to at-will employment will also determine whether a discharge of a teacher was wrongful.

What Protections Does Tenure Provide?

In addition to protecting a teacher from termination without a showing of cause, tenure also provides other protections such as:

  • Salary reductions
  • Demotion
  • Other discipline actions

Though tenure provides some protections, it does not guarantee that a teacher may retain a certain position, such as that of an athletic coach, nor does it guarantee indefinite employment.

When Can a Tenured Teacher Be Dismissed?

A tenured teacher may be dismissed if the school can show cause. Some states have a list that outlines when a school may terminate a teacher, and these circumstances are in-line with those in which a state agency may revoke a teacher’s teaching certification. Examples of cause for dismissal include:

  • Conviction of a crime;
  • Immoral conduct;
  • Neglect of duty;
  • Insubordination;
  • Fraud or misrepresentation;
  • Serious noncompliance with school laws; and/or
  • Incompetence.

What Process is Required to Terminate a Tenured Teacher?

No tenured teacher may be terminated without due process of law. The Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment provides the minimum procedural requirements that school districts must satisfy when terminating teachers who have attained tenure.

Due process does not prescribe the reasons of dismissal, rather, it prescribes the necessary procedures that a public school district must follow. In many states, the statutory provisions for the dismissal of a teacher exceed those required under the Due Process Clause.

The United States Supreme Court Case of Cleveland Board of Education v. Loudermill outlined that a tenured teacher must be given written or oral notice of the dismissal, including the charges against her or him, as well as an explanation of the evidence against her or him, and an opportunity for a fair hearing. The teacher is also afforded the opportunity to appeal the dismissal.

Should You Contact an Attorney?

If you have any questions regarding teacher tenure laws, you should contact an employment attorney in your area. A local employment lawyer will be able to advise you of your rights, and provide guidance in how to proceed with your case.

If necessary, your attorney will also be able to represent your best interests in upcoming hearings, assist you with any other actions you may be facing, and also help you file a lawsuit against the school district.