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Legal & Employment Guidance

Educator Rights & Discipline by the School District

State and local laws, school district policies, employment contracts, and collective bargaining agreements may limit how and when employers may discipline educators.
Published: April 5, 2023

State and local laws, school district policies, employment contracts, and collective bargaining agreements may limit how and when employers may discipline educators.

The laws vary, but in most states, districts must have just cause in order to fire a teacher who has tenure or refuse to renew a tenured teacher’s contract.

Specific causes can be found in state statutes and frequently include insubordination, immorality, or unprofessional conduct. Tenure laws also provide procedural protections for a dismissed teacher, including notice and an opportunity to challenge the dismissal through a hearing before the school board or a hearing officer.

For educators who do not have tenure, contracts can often be non-renewed for any reason, though state law may still require districts to have good reasons to fire a teacher mid-year. Generally, these laws only protect educators who are teachers.

In states with collective bargaining, collective bargaining agreements, or CBAs, regulate discipline.

The contracts may establish the process by which districts discipline educators and the substance of the punishment itself.

Typical procedures include giving the educator notice and time to prepare, allowing the educator a representative, having a hearing, and requiring districts to have evidence.

CBAs may also provide a rubric for deciding what discipline is appropriate for certain types of misconduct.

Frequently, CBAs require districts to use progressive discipline. See, e.g., Collective Bargaining Agreement between Seattle Public Schools and Seattle Education Association Certified Non-Supervisory Employees, 2019-2022 (“Seattle CBA”), Art. III, § C, ¶ 5, p. 26, (“No employee shall be disciplined without just and sufficient cause. A process of progressive discipline will be used.”); Los Angeles CBA, Art. X-A 3.0(b) p. 79. Go to reference Except in extreme cases, the school should deal with an educator’s first offense by an informal warning.

Formal discipline starts with written reprimands, then suspensions with or without pay, and then discharge. Dayton CBA, Art. 48, ¶¶ 48.01-48.02, p. 85. Go to reference Still, CBAs typically recognize that in some cases an educator’s misconduct will be too severe to follow progressive discipline. Id. Go to reference

You can check your contract and school district policy to see what rules are in place about handling discipline.

If you are represented by a union, contact your union for assistance. Your union representative can help you determine what rights you have under any collective bargaining agreement with your school district and under your state’s tenure law.

If you receive notice of dismissal, especially in response to any of the types of advocacy detailed in this guide, contact your local or state union immediately. It is possible the dismissal is improper under state tenure law or your CBA.

Your local union will be able to help you request a hearing in the proper time frame, understand the process, and prepare a defense. Your union can provide representation during the hearing and may help you with an appeal if the dismissal is upheld.

But it’s important to note that a school can generally suspend a teacher pending the dismissal proceedings. Whether the teacher continues to receive their salary during the suspension varies by state.

If the teacher’s termination is overturned, they are typically entitled to back pay for any time during the hearing process that they were suspended without pay. If the dismissal is upheld, the appeals process in court is lengthy and reinstatement could take significant time.

This page is intended to provide general information. For specific advice, you should always contact your local union or attorney. 

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