House considers bill to reinstate teacher due process rights

? The House Education Committee heard testimony Tuesday on a bill that would reinstate due process rights for K-12 public school teachers who are terminated or not renewed for the following year.

At the end of the hearing, though, the committee chairman Rep. Clay Aurand, R-Belleville, said he does not intend to advance the bill this year and instead will ask that officials from teachers unions and the Kansas Association of School Boards work out a compromise to be brought back next year.

That law, originally known as the Tenure of Instructors Act, had been on the books for decades before lawmakers repealed it in 2014. It said teachers who had worked at least three years in a school district were entitled to a due process hearing before an independent hearing officer before they could be summarily fired or not renewed for the following year.

Lawmakers repealed that law in 2014 as part of a bill that provided additional school funding in response to a Kansas Supreme Court decision that year.

David Schauner, an attorney for the Kansas National Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, said the law was enacted in the 1950s to protect teachers from unjust firing for political, religious or personal issues.

Mark Desetti, a KNEA lobbyist, cited recent examples of teachers who have been forced out of their jobs for unjust reasons, including a teacher in the Piper school district in Wyandotte County who had given failing grades to several students who plagiarized papers they were assigned to write, then resigned rather than comply with an order from the school board to change their grades to passing grades.

Desetti also criticized the method by which the language repealing due process rights was inserted into a school funding bill.

“The reason it passed was because it was locked into a major, must-pass school finance bill, and it did not get 63 votes,” he said. “And in fact, a ‘call of the House’ was put on, you were locked in the chamber for a couple of hours before the 63rd vote cracked. The call was lifted, the gavel was dropped and teachers lost their due process rights.”

David Dorsey, an education analyst with the conservative think tank Kansas Policy Institute, spoke against the bill, saying the 2014 law did not actually repeal teacher due process rights but instead put control of due process rights in the hands of local school boards.

Following passage of the 2014 law, many school districts have negotiated with their local teachers unions to develop their own due process procedures.

In the Lawrence school district, for example, the school board negotiated with the local teachers union to develop a new process that gives the school board, not an independent arbiter, final authority to decide whether a teacher should be fired or not renewed.

“We certainly understand the concerns about the way the due process law was repealed,” said Mark Tallman of the Kansas Association of School Boards. “We know that, and that’s why our position is to try to work with organizations to see if we can come up with a common position that all sides can support.”