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Judge gives Guilford, Durham reprieve from N.C. tenure law

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Updated 11:26 p.m.

GREENSBORO — Guilford County and Durham school systems got a temporary reprieve Wednesday from having to offer contracts to certain teachers in exchange for their tenure.

It’s not yet clear whether that protection extends to other North Carolina school systems.

At a hearing Wednesday, Special Superior Court Judge Richard Doughton granted a preliminary injunction to the Guilford County and Durham boards of education.

The school boards and Guilford Superintendent Maurice “Mo” Green are suing the state over new provisions to the law on teacher tenure. Doughton also denied the state’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit.

The injunction protects the boards and Green from having to offer new contracts to certain teachers in exchange for their tenure, at least until the appellate court rules on their overall lawsuit. Otherwise, officials had until June 30 to comply with that part of the law.

The official order, which is expected to be filed in a few days, should clarify whether Doughton wanted his ruling to apply to school boards beyond those involved in the lawsuit.

The ruling closes the first round of a long battle.

Doughton will also be the trial court judge. Whichever way he rules when the case goes to trial, an appeal is expected.

The ruling Wednesday applies only to teachers who have career status or tenure. State leaders plan to eliminate the extra layer of job protection for teachers by 2018.

A major complaint for Green and the school boards is that revoking tenure from vested teachers violates the state and federal constitutions.

They also argue the wording of the law is too vague, that tenure is a constitutionally protected property right and that implementing the law as-is would force them to violate their oaths of office.

A key issue argued at Wednesday’s hearing revolved around whether school boards can legally sue the state.

Melissa Trippe, special deputy attorney general representing North Carolina, maintained that as a subunit of the government created by the state, boards cannot challenge the state on matters of federal constitutionality.

In a brief, the state argued that granting that power exceeds the authority initially allowed when the General Assembly created governmental bodies such as school boards.

Trippe argued that the five cases the plaintiffs’ attorneys cite to support their claim are not relevant.

Jim Phillips, the attorney representing Green and the school boards, argued that without legal standing for governmental bodies such as school boards, state executive and legislative branches could make and enforce laws that could not be challenged.

Doughton agreed boards can legally sue the state.

The plaintiff’s questions about the constitutionality of the recent legislation affecting teacher tenure also seemed to resonate with Doughton.

Those questions have a “direct and substantial effect on their roles as educational providers in this state,” Doughton said.

Local educators celebrated the ruling.

“It’s very important that we support our teachers,” said Alan Duncan, chairman of the Guilford County Board of Education. Duncan, an attorney, said he appreciates Doughton’s thoughtfulness on the arguments.

Liz Foster, president of the Guilford County Association of Educators, shimmied in her chair after hearing Doughton’s ruling. Her dance gave way to happy tears.

The decision shows some state leaders understand the importance of what Foster described as a civil rights issue for teachers.

“After beating them (teachers) down all year, it’s one good thing we can do, that’s for sure,” she said.


Updated 3:58 p.m.

Special Superior Court Judge Richard Doughton today granted preliminary protection to Guilford County and Durham school district leaders suing the state over a law on teacher tenure.

That means the those districts will not have to pick 25 percent of eligible teachers to offer new contracts in exchange for their career status, or tenure. At least not yet. 

That protection lasts until the courts resolve the issues outlined in the lawsuit, including concerns that revoking tenure from vested teachers violates the state and federal constitutions. 

State law gives North Carolina school districts until June 30 to select teachers and offer the contracts.

There is also a statewide campaign urging teachers not to sign those contracts. The North Carolina Association of Educators is also suing the state over the new provisions of the law regarding tenure. 

It is not yet clear if the protection extends to districts beyond those represented in the lawsuit. 

Doughton also denied the state's motion to dismiss. 

This is just the first round of a longer court battle. 


Posted 2:46 p.m.

Special Superior Court Judge Richard Doughton today granted protection to school district leaders suing the state over a law on teacher tenure.

The preliminary injunction approved by the court temporarily protects school leaders until broader questions about the law are resolved in court, including constitutionality issues and whether school boards can legally sue the state.

Check back for more details on the decision as information becomes available.

Contact Marquita Brown at (336) 373-7002, and follow @mbrownk12 on Twitter.

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