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Tennessee Teacher Tenure Act

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CaseEmory v. Board of Education

Issue:  What is the remedy when a School Board fails to conduct a tenured teacher’s termination hearing within the time mandated by the statute?

Facts:  Teacher, who had tenure, requested a hearing before the School Board to challenge her pending termination. Although the Tenure Act requires that a hearing “shall” occur within 30 days, the hearing did not take place for more than a year. After the hearing, the School Board ultimately decided to terminate Teacher. A chancery court upheld the termination.

Appellate Decision:  The Court of Appeals rejected Teacher’s argument that the School Board’s failure to comply with the statute deprived the School Board of jurisdiction to terminate her, and that the School Board needed to reinitiate the disciplinary process to regain jurisdiction. Instead, the Court held that the time limit was “discretionary” rather than “mandatory” because the timing is not “fundamental to the validity of the statute” and no sanction is provided for noncompliance.  The Court held that Teacher’s only prejudice was the time she spent without pay between the end of the 30 day window and the date of the hearing, so the Court awarded her back pay for that period as a remedy.

Review Granted:  September 18, 2015.

Prediction:  Ben thinks the Supreme Court may reverse and vacate Teacher’s termination. The Tenure Act provides that “[n]o teacher shall be dismissed or suspended except as provided in this part,” and that a hearing “shall” be set within 30 days of a request. The statute thus provides an unambiguous right to tenured teachers for a timely hearing. The delay here of more than a year was hardly de minimis or incidental. The Court of Appeals’s solution, while logical, has no basis in the statute.