Judge rules teacher firings unlawful

By Darryl Holliday

Chicago teachers who were laid off over the summer are steps closer to getting their jobs back.

The U. S. District Court Judge David Coar ruled on Oct. 4 Chicago Public Schools violated the rights of hundreds of CPS employees when it authorized the “honorable termination” of tenured teachers in June.

The ruling comes as a blow to the Chicago Board of Education and CPS CEO Ron Huberman, who was given authority to lay off tenured teachers by the board. It is largely seen as a win for the Chicago Teachers Union.

Chicago Public Schools, which laid off nearly 1,300 teachers over the summer, had suggested the layoffs were due to unsatisfactory performance. However, according to court documents, “the majority of tenured teachers laid off were rated excellent, superior

or satisfactory.”

Of the nearly 1,300 laid-off teachers, 749 were tenured. Since then, 417 of those tenured teachers have been rehired, according to CPS.

Liz Brown, media relations officer for the Chicago Teachers Union, said she thinks the court decision will set an important precedent for the way in which teachers are laid off.

“I think all teachers across the nation won because basically what the judge did was reinstate our right to tenure, and tenure is being targeted from the federal on down to the local school district,” Brown said.

Tenure ordinarily provides due process rights to teachers after several years of good service.

Supporters of tenure point to instances where teachers have been wrongfully fired for questioning unsound educational practices or protesting simple nepotism on the part of administrators.

“When we talk about what tenure does, it’s a stop measure to retaliatory firings and crony hiring,” Brown said.

Critics of the process said tenure complicates removing ineffective teachers, and modern civil rights laws render it less necessary than in the past.

According to Monique Bond, CPS spokeswoman, CPS believes it was on the right side of the law and followed union contracts when using its board-approved authority to lay off teachers.

However, the recent ruling doesn’t seem to agree.

Though the teachers union was not asking for the explicit rehiring of laid off teachers, the case won a procedure that, according to the district court document, “will give tenured teachers a foot in the door to be considered for existing vacancies.”

The court has ordered the board to come to a compliant agreement with the union within 30 days. It has also ordered CPS to overturn discharges of tenured teachers fired on June 15 and permanently barred the board from conducting future layoffs in a similar manner.

“The national implications are really important,” Brown said. “This is going to embolden teachers to stand up and demand their rights in the workplace and their student’s right to equity education.”