An Overview of the Teacher Fair Dismissal Act

This time each year, I often get questions from readers and clients regarding the requirements of the Arkansas Teacher Fair Dismissal Act (TFDA). As teachers, many of my readers and clients want to know exactly how the TFDA protects them, so I’ve decided to do a brief overview of what the TFDA requires and a summary of the steps teachers can take when faced with a possible suspension or termination.

First of all, just to clarify, the TFDA applies to all individuals employed by a school district who are required to hold a teaching license as a condition of their employment, except for superintendents and assistant superintendents. This, of course, includes more than classroom teachers. Principals, counselors, and specialists are all protected under the TFDA as well. For simplicity in this post, I’ll use the term “teachers” as inclusive of all those protected.

Second, a teacher’s contract is automatically renewed on the same terms and for the same salary, except for adjustments pursuant to the school district’s salary schedule, each year unless the teacher is notified in writing by May 1 that the superintendent is recommending nonrenewal of the teacher’s contract after the school year. A teacher has until 10 days after the end of the school year to notify the school district of his/her intent to resign, and at any point, the parties can agree to different terms for a new contract.

In general, school districts have the ability to reassign teachers, modify job descriptions, do away with certain positions, and create new positions, all depending on the changing needs of the district. Teachers are not entitled by law to the same job every year. They are, however, entitled to notification and the opportunity to be heard before the school board if the superintendent reassigns them to a new position and lowers their salary. A school district cannot force a teacher into a different job with different contract terms after the May 1 deadline has passed without giving them the opportunity for a hearing before the school board.

Third, a teacher can only be terminated during the school year for one of several reasons: (1) a reduction in force; (2) incompetent performance; (3) conduct that materially interferes with the continued performance of his/her duties; (4) repeated or material neglect of duty; or (5) other just and reasonable cause. These are broad categories, and almost any alleged teacher misconduct can be classified in at least one of these categories. The teacher must be notified of the recommendation and alleged grounds of termination in writing.

Fourth, a teacher can be immediately suspended if cause for termination exists and the superintendent believes immediate suspension is necessary. The superintendent must then notify the teacher within 2 days of the suspension in writing, again stating the grounds for termination and suspension. If a superintendent believes there are grounds for terminating a teacher during the school year, then the teacher will almost always be suspended pending the proceedings.

Once a teacher receives written notice of nonrenewal, suspension, or termination, the teacher can either accept the superintendent’s recommendation and resign, or he/she may request a hearing before the school board. When a teacher is suspended, the school district must continue to pay the teacher his/her salary until the school board either sustains the suspension or terminates the teacher. At no point can a teacher be suspended without pay before the school board has a chance to review the suspension. The teacher has 30 days from the date he/she received the written notice to request a hearing. On the date of the hearing, the teacher can request that the hearing be either open or closed to the public. The only grounds that the school board may consider in determining whether to suspend or terminate a teacher are those listed by the superintendent in the original written notice provided to the teacher. If the school board votes to suspend or terminate the teacher, the teacher may then choose to appeal the decision to circuit court.

This is only a brief summary, and does not address every situation. However, I hope that this information can equip teachers with the information necessary to make the right decision when faced with a notice of suspension or termination.

Comments 45

  • Jennifer, thanks for this nice summary of the TFDA. Could you give readers more information about the way a district’s Reduction in Force (“RIF”) policy might affect or be affected by the TFDA? I’m thinking especially of instances where a district decides to eliminate a particular job filled by a veteran employee. Some jobs do not carry clear descriptions communicated to the employee at the time of employment. (Theses might include “instructional facilitator”, “interventionist”, “literacy coach”, for example.) Can an employee be removed from the salary schedule, even though terms of the TFDA have not been satisfied, or even thought the district has not invoked its RIF policy for the entire district? Thanks!

  • I would also like to know the answer to the above mentioned question. My job is being eliminated after 10 years in the position.

  • […] summarized the Arkansas Teacher Fair Dismissal Act (TFDA) in a previous post, but since that time, I’ve received several phone calls, emails, […]

  • I understand that under the teacher Fair Dismissal Act 6-17-1506-Contract renewal-Notice of nonrenewal- Rescission that I have ten days after the end of the school year to unilaterally rescind my contract. My questions is whether or not the ten days mentioned include non-business days.

  • I found a the following:
    (a) Computing Time. The following rules apply in computing any time period specified in these rules, in any local rule or court order, or in any statute that does not specify a method of computing time.

    (1) Period Stated in Days or a Longer Unit. When the period is stated in days or a longer unit of time:

    (A) exclude the day of the event that triggers the period;

    (B) count every day, including intermediate Saturdays, Sundays, and legal holidays; and

    (C) include the last day of the period, but if the last day is a Saturday, Sunday, or legal holiday, the period continues to run until the end of the next day that is not a Saturday, Sunday, or legal holiday.

    • I believe what you’ve found comes from court rules, which don’t apply to state statutes. It’s my understanding that the 10 days mentioned in the TFDA means 10 calendar days.

  • I recently tried to resign from my current teaching position and was just past the ten day period. I’m being told that I must stay and can not get out of my contract. I’m giving the school ample time to find a replacement for me, but they disagree. My contract itself does not state a time period so I was unaware that I would be held to it. Is there anything that protects me from the district basically holding me hostage? Your insight is greatly appreciated!

    • In general, after the ten-day grace period is over, the district can refuse to allow you out of your contract. Obviously, they can’t make you come to work everyday, but they can initiate termination proceedings if you don’t, which will be part of your personnel file and may affect your future job opportunities. The most immediate consequence, however, is that if you sign a contract for this school year with another school district, your current district can require reimbursement of your salary from your new district, so most districts won’t hire you before you’re released from your contract. If you plan to teach at a private school, out-of-state, etc., it may not affect you. Of course, the district could technically bring a breach of contract action against you, but in reality, that’s pretty rare.

  • I was terminated Aug. 19, 2013 for violating the “Drug-Free” policy. I had good to great evaluations and many sick/personal days. I did not know that particular policy. I was employed for (7) seven years as an assistant principal of middle school. Before that I was a successful teacher and bus driver. I called for a hearing, which was a farce. My attorney as since been disbarred and was more harm than good. I need to know if I have the right to get my personnel records. Also, I may need representation.

  • […] teacher. The school district would still be required to follow the procedural requirements of the Teacher Fair Dismissal Act, so the teacher would have the opportunity to present his or her reasons for breaking the contract […]

  • What if they fail to deliver a letter in 2 days?

  • How are superintendents protected if they aren’t covered under this TFDA?

  • So, this applies to CERTIFIED personnel. What about CLASSIFIED (Parapros, Technology Directors, etc – not required to hold license)? Many schools follow TFDA for those folks, but are they required to do so for those persons? Thanks!

  • What, if anything, is a district required to keep in your personnel file?

  • Hello! I have a question, My school district made employees sign contracts in April. My job is 30 minutes away from my hometown. I interviewed for a position in my hometown. They want to hire me but is skeptical because I have already signed a contract with this school district. Don’t I have 10 days after the last day of school to resign?

  • I am Mid-Level certified 4-8, and after three years of teaching in my district within my certification the district transferred me to the high school, which is out of my licensure area. I was placed on an ALP, I have taken the secondary content test for math several times and while my scores get better each time, I have not been able to pass, additionally I have paid for the praxis four times, for an audit college class of College Algebra, and tutoring to the tune of $1000 in expenses. I am evidently on a one-year-only contract, and have been notified to apply for jobs within district, and get a letter of recommendation from my principal. I have done so, and requested a meeting the the superintendent over HR. I have yet to hear back from anything. My understanding is a one-year-only contract does not require the district to find me a position, but since I have been with the district now for five years and they transferred me out of a job that I was HQ for things should be different for me. What is your advice?

    • I can’t give specific advice on this without reading your contract, knowing your licensure areas, why you were reassigned, etc. If you’d like to discuss more specifically, call our office and we can schedule a consultation.

  • If I give a written reprimand to a certified employee, how many days must I give them to submitt a rebuttal?

    • State law doesn’t require a certain amount of time. It just says that teachers have the right to submit a rebuttal to anything in their personnel file. Check your personnel policies to see if there’s a time limit listed there. If not, I think you should give as much time as they need. It shouldn’t make much difference to the district. As long as you’ve followed your disciplinary policies and the teacher has signed stating that they’ve received the reprimand, you can go ahead and put it in their personnel file, and add the rebuttal whenever you receive it.

  • What does “incompetent” mean in regards to a teacher’s performance? As we all know every teacher has a bad year and if you have a principal who is not willing to budge on policy of lack of growth shown for one of 4 years teaching can he/she submit a request for non-renewal of contract after the May 1 deadline to the superintendent? If so how long does a teacher have to appeal said non-renewal recommendation after it is processed in order for it to not show on his/her personnel file? Additionally if a teacher has a termination on his/her personnel file does this mean that he/she could possibly lose his/her teaching license? Does the principal/HR have the right to force a teacher’s hand in resignation by telling him/her that he/she might want to resign their position in order to keep it out of their personnel file? Is there a time limit as to how long a teacher can file a grievance/civil law suit against a principal for violating his/her HIPPA rights?

    • A district has to notify a teacher of nonrenewal by May 1, but can terminate the teacher during the contract year for cause. A teacher has 30 days after receiving a notice of nonrenewal of termination to request a hearing before the school board. A termination is not grounds for revocation of licensure, but if the grounds for termination are inappropriate conduct or ethical violations, then the district may submit an ethics complaint against the teacher to the Dept. of Education. Choosing to resign in lieu of facing termination proceedings can be an option for some teachers, as a termination could affect your future job opportunities. You’ll have to check the district’s handbook for grievance procedures.

  • Can your position be terminated after May 1 if you fail to return a signed contract by a district set deadline?

  • If an educator or teacher commits an infraction that warrants a suspension with pay. What is the possible or probable punishment that the superintendent will recommend?

    • That would depend on the infraction that led to the suspension. The Superintendent can suspend a teacher for a specified period of time without pay, or s/he can recommend indefinite suspension or termination to the school board.

  • I have taught one full year and now reaching December of my second year. I am in the same district, however, my school shut down last year so I was placed in another location. My first year was very successful with only outstanding reports from my principal. This year I unfortunately just don’t fit in this particular school. The principal has give me a written reprimand. He never gave me a verbal or written warning just went straight to this. My computer crashed Monday morning and after an hour of our technology coworker we had no luck so by 8:00 he came in and I let him know the situation he responded “well can you pull them up on a different computer?” My grade level works together and so I told him I could get the main plans out of my email from the students computer. It had my coworkers name on top and he reprimanded me for “unprofessional conduct falsifying a document as my own”. I have no clue who to talk to about this and if I am wasting my time.

  • I was suspended for “one thing” in the original written notice that they gave me on the day of suspension (Apr 4) and they walked me out. One month later they sent me a Recommendation of Termination letter stating 5 other infractions. Is that legal? I thought the Board is suppose to only decide on the “original” letter of suspense.

    I was also terminated after May 1st. Does this have any bearing on my case?

    • Superintendents can generally issue new letters recommending termination to add additional “reasons” for the recommendation. It just starts the timeline over, so you have 30 days from the date of the latest letter to request a board hearing. There’s no requirement that a board can only consider the original letter. The May 1st deadline doesn’t matter for terminations, only for non-renewals. And unfortunately, even if there were problems with the way your district terminated you, it’s probably too late to do anything about it six months later.

  • Personnel files: I am retiring. Can I request to take my file with me?
    Is there any need for the district to keep it?

  • What actions can a teacher take if they are terminated under (2) incompetent performance. What proof does the school district have to obtain to substantiate this claim? When does it become a rights violation?

    • There’s no statutory level of proof required for performance-based terminations. The Superintendent does have to show that the teacher received notice of that he/she was not meeting expectations and that steps were taken to help the teacher correct the problem. Whether a termination rises to the level of a constitutional violation is highly dependent on the facts of the case.

  • According to the Teacher Fair Dismissal act, after May 1, a teacher cannot be removed from a position and placed in another position. For example, if a teacher is teaching in a second grade position from Aug. 13 until now, October 16, then that teacher cannot be forced to move to a 6th grade position in the middle of the year, even though the contract states “other duties as assigned,” and technically does not state a grade level position. Is this true?

    • Teachers can be reassigned positions during the school year. The TFDA does not prohibit that. The TFDA only applies when there is a salary change that is detrimental to the teacher. If the Superintendent reassigns you and lowers your salary, then the TFDA protections apply. If there is no change in salary, you can be reassigned as needed based on your credentials.

      • So basically your last statement of paragraph 4 is an untrue statement?

        • What I meant in paragraph 4 is that teachers can’t be forced into different jobs with different contract terms, i.e., salaries, stipends, etc., after May 1 without the opportunity for a hearing. I see how it’s not clear in the paragraph as written. I’ll edit the paragraph for clarification.

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