Thursday, January 23, 2020

Getting Closer to Restoring Due Process Rights!

January 23, 2020

In great news, all three of our due process bills (SB98, SB167, and SB377) passed the full Senate Education and Health Committee on party line votes of 9-6. Thank you to everyone who called committee members, and to Senate Democrats, who have made these bills top priorities. We ran around this week to answer any questions and to firm up all the votes, and it worked. There were questions from opponents, but we will be getting one-pagers on the bills to the entire Democratic Caucus so that they’re all ready when the bills move to the floor for debate Monday. The House versions of the bills will he heard next week, and we are very hopeful that the House Democrats will also be with us.

Here are some highlights from our one-pager:
These bills that are top priorities for the VEA. Together, they reverse actions that stripped teachers of their due process rights made by the Republican-controlled 2013 General Assembly and Governor Bob McDonnell. The changes were part of the Republican false narrative that it was hard to fire teachers and, since so many teachers are bad, we need to make it easy to fire them. During a 2013 floor speech, a member of the Virginia Senate suggested we needed “lemon laws” for teachers, and the Republicans passed exactly those laws.

SB98 (Senator Mamie Locke):
This bill removes language allowing school divisions to extend teacher probationary periods to five years, which allows teachers with up to five years of experience to be fired without due process. A probationary period for teachers had, for decades prior to this change, been three years.

Virginia is one of only a handful of states that can deny a teacher’s due process for up to five years, an excessively long period of time. School leadership should be able to determine within three years if a teacher is a good fit for their school and division. Three years also allows for the full implementation of a thoughtful and effective mentoring program to support any new teacher.

Opponents will say that if a teacher “shows promise” after three years, but the school division isn’t certain he or she is a good fit, they will have to fire them. That is not true. After three years, a teacher who “shows promise” can be given a continuing contract and can be fired at any point, but is granted due process. This isn’t about helping a third-year teacher; this is about not wanting to grant due process to a teacher in the fourth or fifth year.

SB167 (Senator Barbara Favola):
This bill doesn’t seek to change the reasons for which a teacher can be fired. It simply removes the current definition of incompetency. The VEA worked with the VSBA to reach agreement on this approach.

Incompetency, as defined in this section of Code, does not give local school divisions the flexibility to support teacher performance while also determining, on a case-by-case basis, if the teacher is, in fact, incompetent. It also includes language not germane to the definition since a school division cannot employ a teacher who fails to meet the endorsement qualification. 

A teacher who receives one unsatisfactory evaluation, especially one that relies heavily on student test scores, should not automatically be considered incompetent.

SB377 (Senator John Bell):
This restores the three-person panel as an option for school boards in teacher grievance cases. Current language only allows for these hearings to be before the school board or in front of a hearing officer appointed by the school board. That stacks the odds against the teacher and allows the school board to very quickly and easily fire a teacher. We know that many of the hearing officers are biased against the teacher and are, sometimes, former superintendents. This has been a legislative priority of the VEA for years. Interestingly, when we try to find teachers who had a bad hearing with either a school board or hearing officer, we struggle to find stories. Overwhelmingly what we hear is that teachers facing dismissal or other discipline simply resign when they realize the court is stacked against them. Even worse, since 2016 we have seen a significant increase of cases where a teacher who is dismissed is automatically referred to the VA Board of Education for license revocation. The stakes are too high to not make sure teachers get a fair hearing.

VEA Lobby Day and Rally

We are just a few days away from our Fund Our Future Lobby Day and rally. Make your plans now to be in Richmond! Click here to see theschedule and here to let us know you are going to be there.