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.