I know that taxpayers see the best and worst of educators. The truth is that the vast majority of educators are incredibly dedicated public servants who deserve our praise. In surveys we conduct, it reveals that working conditions are a bigger issue to teachers than salary.
Let me share one example: We have discovered that several school districts are now using the term “Leaves of Absences” while investigating any allegations against teachers. During the “tell your side” conference, the teacher is informed of the supposed allegations to which he/she is supposed to respond. Soon thereafter, a “Written Reprimand” is issued and at times, the teacher is found responsible of violations of school policy and penalized certain days of pay. This occurs without sufficient notice of the charges or due process rights afforded within an impartial hearing. We believe this is improper and may in fact be actionable. We are very concerned about these methods which in essence dilute, and at times, abuse the due process rights of a tenured educator. The right to be heard before an impartial hearing officer, along with the appeal rights to the Board and Chancery Court are obviated. We believe this to be contrary to the legislative intent of and due process rights provided by Tennessee Code Annotated §49-5-511 and Tennessee Code Annotated §49-5-512.
Let me put it into something more relatable for the average reader. Imagine you walk into your job today and are questioned by a supervisor. You are told you are being sent home because a subordinate told you something. Keep in mind you followed company policy and reported the conversation which involved illegal activities to authorities, as required by company policy. Now the “Leave of Absence” is under media scrutiny, you cannot defend yourself. To make matters worse, the supervisor can take as long as he wants to investigate the issue. The longer you stay at home, the more damaging to your career. Rumors begin to circulate that you must have done something wrong, which you clearly did not. The supervisor purposely skirts company policy, by using the term, “Leave of Absence.” Ask yourself this question, would you want to work for that company? More importantly would anybody want to work for that company?
While this sounds complicated. It is really simple: Follow the Law. People should not play semantics with words. If a teacher or administrator has done something that warrants a reprimand or suspension, then address that issue and allow due process to take place. When districts try to avoid following the law, the recourse will eventually and most certainly end up in court. When that happens students lose, teachers and administrators lose, and most importantly taxpayers lose.
My advice to school districts. You may not like the law. You may not agree with the law. But as long as it is the law…. follow the law.
JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the association are properly cited. For more information on this subject or any education issue please contact Professional Educators of Tennessee.