Two Recent Lawsuits Challenging New York City Teacher Tenure Laws

In June of this year, a California court issued a decision striking down teacher tenure laws in the state as unconstitutional.  The basis of the decision was that teacher tenure laws violate student’s rights to an education as they allow incompetent educators to keep their jobs.  Tenure laws are job protection laws that sometimes make it nearly impossible to remove a poorly performing teacher from the system.  Based on the California case, two lawsuits have been filed by parent organizations challenging New York City tenure laws.

In New York City, teachers are eligible for tenure after three years of employment.  Once they gain tenure, they can only be punished or fired for poor performance after going through the City disciplinary system.  Some reports have shown that it can take years and hundreds of thousands of dollars in city resources to remove a teacher through the disciplinary system.  One study showed that in a ten-year period only 12 teachers were removed on the basis incompetence.

The pending lawsuits, including one by the New York City Parents Union, allege that the current system is not working and that it keeps ineffective teachers in the system violating the constitutional right to an education held by students.  They also allege that laying off teachers with the least seniority first in a bad economy, regardless of their skills, is bad policy.  The plaintiffs seem to be particularly focused on how tenure laws affect low-income and poverty stricken schools and students.  

The United Federation of Teachers (UFT), a union that represents a large number of New York City educators, entered a memo opposing the lawsuit and waging support for tenure laws as necessary job protections for teachers.  An attorney for UFT characterized the lawsuits as misleading stating that the proposition that even incompetent teachers will not lose their jobs is incorrect.

For teachers that are capable, knowledgeable and experienced, tenure laws can be a great protection against unsubstantiated claims by students and parents.  If you are a teacher and are involved in a matter where tenure issues are present, or you have any other employment law issue you would like to discuss, call New York City attorney Thomas M. Lancia at (212)964-3157 for a consultation.