Judge sides with Durham, Guilford on tenure

Apr. 23, 2014 @ 08:50 PM

School leaders were ecstatic Wednesday at the news that Superior Court Judge Richard Doughton has granted a preliminary injunction that, for the moment, relieves the Durham and Guilford county school districts of the burden of identifying 25 percent of their teachers to award contracts in exchange for giving up tenure or career status by June 30.
The two school districts have challenged the constitutionality of the Republican-backed legislation its supporters contend will make it easier to fire bad teachers.
Durham school board Chairwoman Heidi Carter said she spoke with several school board members Wednesday afternoon and that all were excited about the news.
“We hope our teachers will be happy,” Carter said. “We are relieved to not have to go through the process of identifying 25 percent of our teachers to [offer] contracts.”
Doughton is expected to sign a written order on the injunction next week, which would be in place while the case is pending.
It was still unclear Wednesday what impact the injunction will have on other school districts throughout the state.
Doughton also denied the state’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit, finding that the plaintiffs showed they had grounds to challenge the constitutionality of the mandate and that they were “likely to succeed on the merits of their claim and that there would be irreparable harm if a preliminary injunction were not issued preserving the status quo.”
Guilford County school board Vice Chairman Amos Quick told The High Point Enterprise that the lawsuit’s purpose is to clarify the law and hopefully declare it unconstitutional.
According to the lawsuit, “the abolition of vested tenure and the 25 percent mandate force the Boards and Superintendent into an untenable position in which they either: (1) implement the Act, but violate the North Carolina and United States Constitutions and face exposure to the threat of litigation; or (2) refuse to implement the Act, but face potential criminal prosecution.”
The lawsuit also cites concerns regarding the vagueness and contradictory language contained in the legislation, noting it is “so loosely, obscurely, and inconsistently written that the Boards and Superintendent must necessarily guess at its meaning and may apply it differently than other boards and superintendents across the state.”
Many districts have adopted resolutions opposing the law and thousands of teachers have signed pledges not to accept the four-year contracts if offered them.
School board member Omega Parker Curtis said she was “elated” to hear the news about the preliminary injunction.
“It’s a step in the right direction,” Parker said.
At a candidate forum for school board members, nearly all candidates expressed support for the school board joining the lawsuit.
School board member Natalie Beyer said Doughton’s ruling was “excellent news.”
“I’m encouraged that Judge Doughton is taking this concern very seriously on behalf of all North Carolina teachers,” Beyer said.
Teachers throughout DPS and across the state contend the law is divisive because it pits teachers against each other in a competition for four-year contracts and modest bonuses.
Under the law, Durham would have offer contracts to 355 of its eligible employees – 292 of them teachers and the rest members of the district’s support staff.
The Wake County school board adopted a resolution asking the General Assembly to repeal the law, but decided against filing a lawsuit or preparing an affidavit in support of a N.C. Association of Educator’s lawsuit – as the Durham school board did -- seeking to overturn the law.
The High Point Enterprise contributed to this report.