The 3rd Circuit Court of Appeal in Lake Charles today (Wednesday) released a ruling ordering a tenured Vermilion Parish public school teacher who was terminated in September 2013 reinstated immediately with back pay. The unanimous decision by the three-judge panel comprising Sylvia R. Cooks, Billy Howard Ezell and Phyllis M. Keaty found that Section 3 of Act 1, part of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s ambitious and controversial 2012 education-reform package, violated teacher Kasha LaPointe’s rights to due process under the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
LaPointe was canned, according to the decision, based on “alleged willful neglect of duty and dishonesty.”
The ruling, however, is narrow: Section 3 of the 2012 reform package was amended with another law, Act 570, in 2014 following a legal challenge by the Louisiana Federation of Teachers that went to the Louisiana Supreme Court. The amended law provided tenured teachers facing termination the opportunity for a pre-termination hearing; the 2012 law only gave teachers the right to a post-termination hearing. The 3rd Circuit found that teachers such as LaPointe who were terminated between Act 1’s effective date, July 1, 2012, and Jindal’s signature enacting Act 570 on June 9, 2014, had their rights to due process violated because they were not afforded pre-termination hearings. The original tenure section of Act 1, the appeals court found, gave too much power to superintendents.
From the decision released today:
We find that the overall scheme of Section 3 of Act 1 of 2012 ... is unconstitutional as it deprives a tenured public school teacher adequate due process before he or she is terminated. Pursuant to Act 1, only one person, the superintendent, makes the decision to terminate, the superintendent [sic]. While the teacher is allowed to oppose the charges brought by the superintendent, it is only after termination that a tenured teacher is allowed to submit her case, including witnesses, to a panel. While it would seem that a teacher receives due process at this post-termination proceeding because she is entitled to a full evidentiary hearing, we find that this is not the case.
We further find that any tenure hearing panel is also weighted against the teacher as it made up of three people, two of whom are selected by the parties responsible for the teacher’s termination. i.e., the superintendent who made the decision to actually terminate the teacher and the principal who probably made the request for termination in the first place. Furthermore, the tenure hearing panel can submit only a recommendation to the superintendent after the hearing. Even if the panel suggests reinstatement, the superintendent is not required to reinstate the teacher, thereby leaving the teacher’s fate in the hands of one person, the superintendent. The teacher can seek further review in a trial court. However, the trial court can reverse the decision of the superintendent only if it was arbitrary and capricious.
With this type of process in place, the superintendent is the only decision maker. Once the superintendent has decided to terminate a teacher without a full hearing, it is almost impossible that a teacher will be reinstated. This renders the post-termination procedure meaningless.
Read the full ruling here.