The Principal’s Dilemma as Mock Trial: Ed Law Colleagues Please Provide Your Opinions!

Posted on April 29, 2013



The following is a hypothetical case I am using as the culminating activity in Public School Law this semester.

The Dismissal of Principal X

Principal X is principal in a local public middle school in a state that has recently adopted through legislation, articulated with greater precision in state department of education regulations, a new teacher evaluation scheme. The teacher evaluation laws and regulations now require that:

  • Any teacher who receives two sequential evaluations less than “satisfactory” shall have his/her tenure status revoked;
  • Teacher evaluations shall consist of 40 to 50% measures of student growth, where the majority shall be based on state provided metrics.
  • By regulatory decree of the State Commissioner of Education, any other measures selected by local district officials for inclusion in evaluations must be proven correlated with state approved and provided measures of student achievement growth.

Further, the state now conditions receipt of “any and all increases to state aid for local public school districts” on full compliance with statutes and regulations pertaining to teacher evaluation.

On September 20th of 2013, Principal X was provided with growth percentile data on her teachers from the prior year. Of the approximately 40 certified staff in her school, 8 received growth percentile data, two of whom achieved unsatisfactory growth percentile estimates for their students, one of whom received a second unsatisfactory rating in a row ‐Teacher Y.

In keeping with the requirement that any and all other measures used in the state approved teacher evaluations be correlated with the growth percentile measures, the principal was compelled to assign this teacher a second unsatisfactory rating, and thus compelled to revoke the tenure status of Teacher Y. She was a 10 year veteran teacher perceived by the principal and many others in the school to be one of the school’s most valuable human resources. In fact, over the past several years, the principal had relied on this teacher to take the difficult students including playing a more significant role than others in inclusion of children with disabilities in her classroom – and the teacher not only willingly, but eagerly complied.

Frustrated with the outcome of the new state teacher evaluation laws, Principal X took her case to the public and to state officials simultaneously. Without specific reference to the case in question – but via stylized example – the principal used the case of Teacher Y to illustrate how strict requirements of job action based largely on limited and problematic measures could lead to damaging decisions – decisions

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that she argued were neither in the best interest of the teachers nor the children they served, and decisions likely to negatively affect the quality of education statewide.

The principal made the case for returning discretion on issues of teacher evaluation and human resource management to local officials, including school principals. The principal’s letter led to a sympathetic uprising from community members and parents, who were quick to catch on as to which teacher was actually the basis of the principal’s hypothetical. Parents of that teacher’s students were outraged, and expressed their outrage at local board of education meetings. During this time, the local board of education maintained quiet support of the principal.

The principal had also begun to engage other principals statewide establishing a network of principals publicly proclaiming their opposition to newly adopted state teacher evaluation statutes and regulations. A web site was created, a non‐profit organization (political action organization) was formed, and the original letter of opposition to new state policies posted on the site, along with a petition for other school principals to show support for the group’s cause and/or become an official member.

State officials were less supportive and unamused by this principal’s apparent disrespect for their authority, and her “willful disobedience of existing statutes and regulations” expressed by Principal X’s stalling on submitting relevant evaluation information necessary for revocation of Teacher Y’s tenure status. Further, state officials were less than thrilled with the mounting insurrection initiated by the publicly posted letter to state officials outlining problems with the state teacher evaluation laws.

State officials released a letter to the local board of education indicating that their state aid would be frozen for the coming school year if, in fact, their rogue principal continued to stall and refuse compliance with the teacher evaluation laws. Under pressure from the board, Principal X agreed to initiate procedures that would lead to tenure revocation for Teacher Y. Instead of waiting out this process, Teacher Y chose to resign and pursue employment elsewhere.

But with mounting pressure on the local board of education from state department officials to control the growing movement among principals statewide against the teacher evaluation laws, a movement initiated by one of their most respected principals (who had received only glowing evaluations in prior years), the district board chose to dismiss Principal X, citing that the principal’s activities had distracted her from doing the job required, substantively compromised her effectiveness as a principal and significantly interfered with the ability of district officials to efficiently and effectively carry on district operations (including the uncertainty created over the district’s future state aid receipts).

Principal X is now suing the district for wrongful dismissal, arguing that the district’s dismissal is in violation of her first amendment right to express herself to the public on issues of public interest, for which she, as an informed public school employee has relevant information.

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Required Reading

Key Cases

Pickering v. Board of Education: http://www.oyez.org/cases/1960‐1969/1967/1967_510

Connick v. Myers: http://www.oyez.org/cases/1980‐1989/1982/1982_81_1251

Garcetti v. Ceballos: http://www.oyez.org/cases/2000‐2009/2005/2005_04_473

Blogs

EdJurist: Garcetti & Schools http://www.edjurist.com/garcetti‐and‐schools

EdJurist: Academic Blogging & Garcetti: http://www.edjurist.com/blog/2008/5/9/academic‐freedom­garcetti‐blogging.html

Law Reviews

Oluwole, J. O. (2007). On the Road to Garcetti: Unpick’erring Pickering and Its Progeny. Cap. UL Rev., 36, 967.

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