Colorado Teachers Challenge Mass Firings

     DENVER (CN) - Colorado's "teacher effectiveness" law unconstitutionally allowed hundreds of teachers to be fired without cause, notice or hearing, teachers and the Denver Classroom Teachers Association claim in a class action.
     Lead plaintiff Cynthia Masters sued the Denver Public Schools and members of the Colorado State Board of Education, in Denver County Court.
     Colorado's Senate Bill 10-191 - "Ensuring Quality Instruction Through Educator Effectiveness" - was signed into law in May 2010.
     It allows "school officials to remove nonprobationary teachers from their teaching positions and subsequently discharge them from employment without cause - i.e., without meeting the standards for dismissals or layoffs established by the Teacher Employment, Compensation, and Dismissal Act ('TECDA') ... and without providing notice and an opportunity for a hearing, as required under TECDA," according to the lawsuit, which has five named plaintiffs in addition to the teachers union.
     Since the law took effect, Denver Public Schools has used the "discharge-without-cause provisions" to fire hundreds of teachers, many of whom "are experienced educators with excellent professional records who had earned nonprobationary status under TECDA before they were discharged," the class claims.
     The teachers union claims the law violates the contracts clause of the Colorado Constitution because "[t]eachers who earned nonprobationary status before the enactment of S.B. 191 have vested, contractual rights not to be discharged unless TECDA's substantive standards for dismissals or layoffs are met and the teachers are provided with an opportunity for a hearing."
     The law also violates teachers' rights to due process, the complaint states.
     Before a "nonprobationary teacher" may be fired, "his or her employing school district must provide the teacher with notice of the grounds for the discharge, including an explanation of the evidence on which the discharge is based, and an opportunity for a hearing before an impartial decision-maker."
     CEA President Kerrie Dallman said Friday in a statement about the lawsuit: "Thirty-six thousand teachers and education support staff today are taking action to keep quality teachers in all of our classrooms. We have fought the good fight with Denver Public Schools over the past two years to try and keep these veteran teachers teaching, and avoid going to the courts or the state Legislature, but sadly that hasn't occurred."
     The lawsuit does not seek to overturn S.B. 191 - just to eliminate the discharge-without-cause provisions.
     The Colorado Education Association supports sections of the law that implement a teacher evaluation system.
     The bipartisan law was sponsored by state Sens. Mike Johnston, a Democrat, and Nancy Spence, a Republican. In the lower house it was also by Rep. Christine Scanlan, a Democrat, and Rep. Carole Murray, a Republican.
     The class seeks an injunction barring the state from enforcing the unconstitutional provisions of the law, and reinstatement and back pay for the fired teachers named as plaintiffs in the complaint.
     The class is represented by Bradley Bartels and Brooke Pardee of the Colorado Education Association.