Editorial: A legal victory for teachers

Published 12:10 am Sunday, April 24, 2016

The North Carolina Supreme Court has given the rights of teachers the respect they deserve. The court ruled Friday that lawmakers violated veterans teachers’ rights by taking away career status job protections they’d already earned.

The attempt to strip those protections was written into a 2013 budget bill passed by the Republican majority and signed by Gov. Pat McCrory. The aim, Republicans lawmakers said, was to make it easier for principals to get rid of bad teachers. “No evidence indicates that such a problem existed,” Justice Robert Edmunds Jr. wrote for the court. Teachers and administrators testified there was nothing impeding the dismissal of inadequate educators, Edmunds wrote.

Since 1971, teachers in North Carolina have been able to earn career status after at least four years in a school district. After that, they could be fired or demoted only for reasons such as poor performance, immorality and insubordination — things a “bad teacher” might do. They had a right to a hearing to challenge their firing or demotion. But they did not have a right to hold on to their jobs no matter what, as some mistakenly believed.

Career status protected teachers from firings that could sometimes involve “malicious schoolhouse politics,” the Associated Press reported. Teachers saw the protections as a benefit that helped offset low salaries.

On the downside, the ruling affects only education veterans. Career status is not available to teachers who started after the new law went into effect. But just as courts are striking down the over-the-top legislative “reforms” of recent years, future legislatures could undo some of the damage lawmakers have done in the pursuit of radical conservatism. Too often, lawmakers’ sincere desire to give North Carolina children a better education has been laced with a cynical view of teachers and the NCAE. The laws that emerged tended to be more punitive than helpful.

To their credit, teachers have persevered. The state may pay the bulk of their salaries, but the people for whom teachers really work are the children who come through the classroom door. Every day is a new opportunity to help students learn and grow. Teachers should be able to carry out that important job without the fear of being arbitrarily dismissed.