For most people in the working world, at will employment is the general rule in nearly every state, including Minnesota. There are important statutory exceptions to this rule, of course, and the rule can be modified by contract. For those who work in education, tenure is one such exception.
Tenure is a central issue in a lawsuit filed by four Minnesota mothers who are asking the court system to declare Minnesota teacher tenure and dismissal laws unconstitutional. According to the mothers, the law ends up protecting teachers who should not be allowed to continue in their work and thus deprives students of a “thorough and efficient” education as required by the state constitution.
The lawsuit is not the first of its kinds—New York and California have seen similar cases. Though these cases are still working through the courts, the suits hold some promise for plaintiffs. In the California case, the state is appealing a judge’s ruling in favor of plaintiffs, and the New York case has survived a challenged to dismiss.
In support of the case, plaintiffs cite poor educational outcomes and argue that state tenure laws make it difficult for school districts to terminate teachers who contribute to the problem. By the same token, the laws allow school districts to terminate employment for outstanding teachers who are not yet tenured.
State law is that teachers in Minnesota are eligible for tenure after three years in a school district. After that point, a process must be followed in order to terminate a teacher. We’ll look at this process in a future post, and why a tenured teacher might want to work with experienced legal counsel when facing the possibility of termination.