What rights do I have as a tenured employee vs. a non-tenured staff member?

Teachers achieve tenure after a probationary period of work. Tenure offers teachers specific rights to due process. A school district must strictly follow due process before terminating or disciplining a teacher. A non-tenured teacher still needs to be eligible to receive tenure. Their rights are different from tenured educators. 

Non-tenured teachers are at-will employees with particular rights, based on the contract they signed with their school district. Ensuring what the terms mean in an employment contract states are crucial for any new teacher. Non-tenured teachers can be fired for any or no reason. However, they may not be fired for illegal (unlawful) reasons. (e.g., discrimination, religion, gender, pregnancy, sexual orientation, and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.)

A tenured teacher achieves their status after completing a probationary period. When a teacher becomes tenured, the district must conduct formal hearings before disciplining a teacher and prove cause to impose discipline. This is often costly and time-consuming. 

Primary tenure areas include:

  • Elementary (Kindergarten to 5th Grade)
  • Middle School (6th, 7th and 8th)
  • English, Grade 7+
  • Social studies, Grade 7+
  • Math, Grade 7+
  • Science, Grade 7+
  • Foreign languages, Grade 7+
  • Other special subject tenure areas

There are different tenure rules for teachers in New York City and the City of Buffalo school districts. School districts can award credit toward tenure to non-full-time teachers. Employment can be terminated before the end of the probationary period. To discipline a teacher with tenure rights, school districts must have cause to impose discipline.

Teachers can be discharged based on the following grounds:

  • Conduct unbecoming.
  • Failing to maintain certification.
  • Insubordination.
  • Inefficiency.
  • Immorality and immoral character.
  • Incompetence.
  • Neglect of duty.
  • Physical and mental abuse.

Disciplining a tenured teacher starts with written charges. A neutral third party will typically conduct a formal hearing. Both sides may call witnesses and present critical evidence. Finally, a hearing officer issues a decision. If either side disagrees with the decision, it must be challenged in a NY court.

These proceedings generally take several months or years, depending on the charges and how complex the case happens. While there are other disciplinary alternatives, each method may have drawbacks, disputes, and costs. If a hearing is the culmination of the discipline process, the school district may seek permanent termination.

Each group of teachers have rights, but non-tenured teachers have fewer legal rights than tenured teachers. In difficult situations with either group, discussing any charges with an experienced wrongful employment termination lawyer at Brill Legal Group is best. You can count on us for straightforward answers to tough questions.

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