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Teachers’ Rights under the Law
posted by: Alix | July 13, 2012, 01:22 PM   

In the new age of education and labor reform across the country, many teachers have expressed concern over their rights without lengthy union contracts and collective bargaining agreements in place. While teacher unions warn of the "dangers" without these cumbersome union negotiated tools, they fail to mention that the majority of the states in the country have a thriving teacher workforce protected by state and federal laws free from collectively bargained contracts.

While scare tactics and false claims about teachers being let go over their hair color or declining salaries are rampant, educators must realize that there are federal and state laws in place meant to protect rights. Federal law prohibits discriminatory actions and the U.S. Constitution guarantees due process for all Americans.

According to AAE's Director of Legal Services Sharon Nelson, due process protections apply to teachers in the classroom. "Regardless of whether the state has collective bargaining, tenure statutes, or has right-to-work status, teachers are afforded due process relating to their employment." Teachers cannot be let go for frivolous reasons such as gender.

The fourteenth amendment states, "....nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law...." Due process rights are often further defined by state statutes and school board policies and cannot be taken away. As a result, whenever a liberty or property interest of a teacher is involved, the teacher must be given the basic due process rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. The unions claim that without contracts and strict tenure statutes, teachers will be let go without just cause. This is simply not the case, and teachers should understand their civil rights.

With respect to teacher pay, in states without collective bargaining, educator pay is on par with that of collectively bargained districts. In fact, when adjusted for cost of living, one could assert that making an average max salary of $75,000 would go further in South Carolina than it would in New Jersey for example. Further, in the states that have been affected by these labor reforms, not a single teacher has seen their pay decrease as a result of the loss of collective bargaining.

Without a contract that dictates small pay increases where all teachers are paid the same, many teachers would benefit from a system that would allow educators to make additional money for more involvement. According to the 2010 AAE Membership Survey, 79% of teachers support educators being paid more to teach in high-needs schools and 80% agreed with paying teachers for taking on more responsibilities and additional roles at their schools. In districts with lengthy contracts, some teachers are actually barred from staying in the school building past 3pm. Clearly educators are looking for flexibility that some contracts do not provide.

In Indiana where education and labor reforms were recently enacted, teachers have seen their professional lives carry on despite union hysteria. Teachers in the state have not lost their positions, have not been paid less, and due process rights are protected and respected. As one policy expert stressed, "The landscape in Indiana is still 'life as they know it'."

It should be recognized that while the value of collective bargaining is debatable, states and districts should operate under systems that work for them. A healthy relationship between teachers, the district, and administrators should always be encouraged. While AAE is not anti-collective bargaining privileges as an organization, we find the model outdated and ineffective in serving diverse professionals that serve the diverse needs of students. Teachers in a modern workforce do not necessarily need one-size-fits-all salary and benefits packages that do little to recognize teachers who go above and beyond in their schools.

While all teachers are given certain rights, it is critical to understand the laws in your state and school district. While all workers are guaranteed certain protections, educators everywhere should stay informed and protect their careers from frivolous lawsuits by having quality legal and liability insurance through AAE membership.

Visit the NCTQ yearbook website to see how your state measures up.

What do you think about the value of collective bargaining?
Comment below.

Comments (1)Add Comment
written by Joy, MD, November 06, 2016

Why in the world are teachers expected to work beyond their contractual hours? There are limited checks and balances placed on those who make curriculum changes and strictly contol the way teachers plan their lessons.

If there is actually "no money" to pay teachers to work beyond their contractual time, why do leaders increasingly place demands on teachers in which they KNOW are humanly impossible to complete within any reasonable amount of time, and why are they allowed to do so?

When there are major curriculum changes, such as those which have been instituted recently in Prince George's County Public Schools in Maryland, districts should be required to establish a task force which looks at what is a reasonable amount of work that can be completed within the contractual time and not exceed such. This seems especially true since teachers of today naturally contend with greater demands then teachers of earlier eras. These include, but are not limited to the following:

· lack of equipment/supplies when expected to use such in order to enhance lessons and meet evaluation demands
· contending with highly disruptive students, many who are beyond control, and appealing to parents and administrators for support may actually backfire
· special education inclusion
· the expectation to have students from all levels, language barriers and socioeconomic backgrounds meet the same standards often given little to no support
· ridiculous amount of standardized assessments
· leaders have the power to institute lack of common sense changes
· manipulation of time so there's no time for drill and practice of necessary basic skills

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