The Kansas National Education Association is gearing up for a court fight next week to restore a legislative provision that allowed impartial hearings for teachers tapped for termination.
The change in the law was embedded in the 2014 Kansas education funding bill and eliminated hearings for K-12 teachers who had passed a three-year probationary time on the job and then were being terminated for any number of reasons.
KNEA already lost an appeal that would have changed the provision in Shawnee County District Court. Next Tuesday, KNEA is taking the matter up to the Kansas Supreme Court where oral arguments to reinstate teacher termination hearings will be heard.
Among the arguments KNEA plans is that Kansas legislators broke the rules by inserting the hearing policy measure in the school finance bill in the first place, since the two are unrelated topics.
Also to be argued, said David Schauner, general counsel for KNEA, is that eliminating hearings means that about 20,000 teachers would lose or not be afforded a protection Kansas teachers have had since 1957.
Kansas state Sen. Tom Arpke, a Salina Republican and chairman of the Senate education committee, said at the time the measure was passed that eliminating the hearings would help remove underperforming teachers from classrooms. Arpke was not available for comment on Tuesday.
KNEA has argued that hearings provided due process for good teachers who may be unfairly terminated. The Kansas Association of School Boards has estimated that about 10 such hearings occur each year.
The hearing process made it incumbent on a school’s principal to show just cause for a teacher’s termination, said Marcus Baltzell, spokesman for KNEA.
“We argue that these impartial hearings kept good teachers in the classroom,” Baltzell said. Without due process, Baltzell said, a good teacher could be fired and replaced with a bad teacher at the whim of school administration. “Essentially, we are saying an impartial hearing was an effective tool to keep checks and balances on both sides.”
Nationally and in Kansas, some supporters of the policy change have likened it to getting rid of tenure, which has long been said to protect poor teachers, allowing them to stay in the classroom.
“We want good teachers in the classroom,” Baltzell said. “The hearings protect them from conduct that is unfair.”