The State Giveth, The State Taketh Away. Now The State Giveth Back..to Some
Recently the North Carolina Supreme Court decided a case challenging the constitutionality and overall legality of the State of North Carolina repealing the teacher tenure system. In NCAE v. The State of North Carolina the Court held the State could not unilaterally break its promise to the hundreds of North Carolina teachers who were hired and worked toward earning tenure. (Read more about the decision here and here). Tenure afforded teachers certain rights regarding adverse employment action and provided a certain layer of protection and job security (relatively speaking). A Republican-led legislature believed tenure made it more difficult to terminate or shed substandard teachers and thus passed the law repealing teacher tenure. There is much debate as to whether this belief was true.
The NC Supreme Court was not having the State’s attempt to change the rules in the middle of the proverbial game and held teachers who had earned tenure as of July 2013, when the teacher tenure repeal law was signed, would remain tenured. But teachers hired after the law passed will not have the protection and benefits conferred by tenure status. All teachers hired after July 2013 are now given contracts of one, two, or four years. Schools now have greater freedom to decide not to renew teacher contracts and teachers can appeal non-renewal decisions to their local school board.
The principle of law that served as the basis for the Court’s decision was that of vesting which relates to benefits and contract law. Teachers who had fulfilled the requirements to obtain tenure were vested and had a contractual and legal right to retain tenure even after passage of the tenure repeal law. While the Court decision relates to the special case of teachers seeking to maintain tenure the principle of “keep your promises” applies to virtually every contract. If you are a party to a contract and have been harmed by another party’s breach of the contract you should consult a legal professional to discuss your situation and assess your rights and options.