Elimination of due process carries unknown impact

While the financial implications of the state?s new school funding bill captured most of the attention, last-minute additions to the bill affecting due process for teachers has generated energy statewide.
In fact, officials with the Kansas National Education Association, the state?s largest teachers union, have said they are ready to sue school districts that try to fire teachers without due process.
Meanwhile, some teachers and administrators quoted in the media have said the issue will make it more difficult for small rural districts to keep or attract their teachers.
Even though he understands that concern, USD 410 Superintendent Steve Noble doesn?t think that will be the case.
?There is a perception that in a smaller community, we?re all tightly connected?if you make one of us mad, you?ll make us all mad,? he said. ?I think that?s fair, but it?s also what?s endearing about our small communities. So, it?s good and bad.?
Noble said teachers choose USD 410 for a variety of reasons?well beyond due process protection.
?Most of our teachers, I think, make that decision based on quality of life, quality of the school district they?re entering, the location of the district,? he said. ?They base it on community connections and family connections.?
Bad teachers

Noble said he believes the due-process components of the new law surfaced because of the frustration some feel about the difficulty of removing bad teachers who have been granted tenure.
?Frankly, our children?s future depends on good teachers in a classroom with kids,? he said. ?The No. 1 impact in education for a kid is still a great teacher?more than technology, more than curriculum, more than other bells and whistles we would put in front of kids.?
Noble said the new law is not so much about tenure as it is due process when a teacher?s performance is called into question.
?(Due process) requires an independent hearing, and that?s the piece of the law that?s kind of a rub,? he said. ?The law allows a teacher to have an independent hearing officer come in any and all cases on dismissal of a teacher who has been employed three years or longer in Kansas schools.
?Sometimes that?s costly, because the process requires a lot of fact-finding and sometimes it creates a lot of negative emotion,? he added.
District are required to cover the fees of attorneys who represent them in the process. Teachers pay for their own attorney, unless they are dues-paying members of KNEA or another teachers union.

Protections needed

Noble said teachers do need protections from unfounded accusations and biased complaints?no matter who makes them.
?If the superintendent?s kids gets a B, and that superintendent thought their child deserved an A, that teacher ought to be protected from a superintendent who wants to get even with a teacher,? he said.
?Or a board member who thinks their son or daughter is the best basketball player and it?s ?Why isn?t getting my kid more minutes on the court??
?All of that is a problem for teachers and coaches and sponsors in all that we do. So some protections are needed.?
Noble said due process, from the state?s point of view, has been eliminated in the state?s bill. But there?s more to the story.
?Any language that is in the master contract as the result of good-faith collective bargaining remains and is still in force, including any due-process language that might be in the master contract,? he said.
School employees also have constitutionally protected rights?like everyone else.
?We all have the right of free speech, there?s no discrimination on gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, religion?all of that,? he said. ?All those protections are still constitutionally protected. You can?t mess with federal law.
?In some ways, free speech protection enables teachers to be able to teach what they feel they need to teach without fear of losing their job because of, say, a controversial science topic.
?My fear is that with the total elimination of due process rights for teachers, we begin to chisel away at the art of teaching,? Noble said. ?It protects them to be the creators of that art that they are. They are trained professionals, and we expect them to do well by our kids.?

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