Two proposals in the South Dakota Legislature would do away with teacher tenure in South Dakota's public schools. Governor Dennis Daugaard does it the wimpy way as part of HB 1234, letting currently tenured teachers keep their tenure while granting it to no future teachers (because young teachers don't vote... except with their feet). Rep. Betty Olson (R-28B/Prairie City) does it straight up, eliminating tenure for everyone right away with HB 1145.
To justify her bill, Rep. Olson cited in committee testimony Wednesday three letters from Harding County School Board members who say that without Rep. Olson's bill, they can't carry out their duty to provide a safe educational environment for their children:
Olson read letters from three members of the Harding County School Board, which described their reluctance to fire a tenured teacher with a history of bullying students. Board member Casey Olson's letter said the board suspended the teacher without pay, but the district's lawyer advised the teacher probably would win an appeal if fired. Instead, they gave the teacher a different assignment with less responsibility.
"The board decided that due to the tight budget, it could not afford to lose a lawsuit," Casey Olson's letter said. "Now, our district is saddled with a teacher most of the parents don't want in the same classroom as their kids and the board is nervously hoping another incident does not occur" [Josh Verges, "School Board: Eliminate Tenure," that Sioux Falls paper, 2012.01.26].
Read that again: a majority of the Harding County School Board believes that a teacher is bullying students. The Harding County School Board is allowing that alleged bully to remain in contact with students.
These Harding County School Board members clearly misunderstand Rep. Olson's bill, state law, and their own duty.
- HB 1145 does not change the rules for firing teachers. It only changes the rules for not hiring teachers back for another year.
- State law allows school boards to fire teachers at any time for just cause. Boards can nuke teachers on the spot for "breach of contract, poor performance, incompetency, gross immorality, unprofessional conduct, insubordination, neglect of duty, or the violation of any policy or regulation of the school district." I'm pretty sure bullying students falls under more than a couple of those criteria.
- If students are in real danger, the board should be acting now. If parents and other staff know there is an adult predator in their school, the solution is not to repeal due process for every teacher in the state: the solution is to replace their lily-livered school board members with adults who take children's safety seriously.
Harding County doesn't have to wait for the end of the school year to remove this threat from their school district. If they have evidence of this bullying, that evidence will stand up in the board hearing and district court hearing and appeals provided under current South Dakota law.
And if the board doesn't have evidence sufficient to withstand legal scrutiny, then too bad. We do not take due process away from the vast majority of decent teachers to grease the skids for a few school board members who can't work up the courage to do their jobs.