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Judge strikes down new NC teacher tenure law

RALEIGH (AP) — A judge ruled Friday that a law cutting teacher job protections in North Carolina is unconstitutional.

Superior Court Judge Robert Hobgood said veteran teachers have an established right to a layer of review beyond school administrators when they face firing. His ruling also said the law passed by Republican lawmakers last year violates constitutional rights that protect contracts and prevent governments from taking a person’s property.

Abolishing teacher tenure “was not reasonable and necessary to serve an important public purpose,” Hobgood said in his ruling.

For more than 40 years, North Carolina law has said veteran teachers cannot be fired or demoted except for reasons that include poor performance, immorality and insubordination. Teachers earning career status after at least four years in a school district also have the right to a hearing where they can challenge their firing or demotion.

Last summer, Republican lawmakers voted to phase out those protections, arguing it will promote sharper classroom performance. Teachers who haven’t worked the four years needed to qualify for career status are being offered one-year contracts. Veteran teachers were due to lose their tenure protections in 2018.

The judge’s ruling did not include teachers that were hired with the expectation of having tenure rights after four years but who had not yet reached that milestone.

State Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, promised that the ruling will be appealed.

“Today a single Wake County judge suppressed the will of voters statewide who elected representatives to improve public education and reward our best teachers with raises. This is a classic case of judicial activism,” he said in a statement.

The ruling is likely to delay action by local school boards on another part of the law requiring them to offer the best 25 percent of its teachers four-year contracts. The contracts mean giving up tenure protections in return for $5,000 in raises over the four years.

A Superior Court judge ruled last week in a separate case that the Guilford County and Durham school boards do not have to issue new teacher contracts to a selected elite 25 percent of educators.

Teachers can choose whether or not to accept that offer, but Friday’s decision means a teacher’s decision will have career-long consequences, said Ann McColl, an attorney for the North Carolina Association of Educators.

Lawyers representing the North Carolina Association of Educators and a half dozen teachers argue eliminating career status wasn’t necessary to remove problem teachers.

The state attorney said earlier this week that lawmakers can end tenure protections if they think it will improve public schools.

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