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Kumbayah Moment: Teacher Termination Compromise

Although they didn’t actually “hold hands and sing Kumbayah”, there was a brief moment of peace and accord between the Jindal administration and teachers unions last week. After more than two years of name-calling, angst and lawsuits, they found common ground around a bill to modify the process for terminating tenured teachers who receive “ineffective” ratings.

“Every stakeholder group has fingerprints in this final version,” said Jimmy Faircloth, who has been representing the state in the constitutional challenges to 2012’s Act 1.

“We are in favor of these changes. We feel they are better than what exists,” said Debbie Meaux, president of the Louisiana Association of Educators.

“This is not perfect by any means, but there is a general consensus around it,” added LAE executive director Michael Walker Jones.

“We don’t agree on all points, but we did agree that we could get to this point and leave the session with something better,” Louisiana Federation of Teachers president Steve Monaghan said of the measure.

To craft this compromise, stakeholders met steadily over a five-week period. House Bill 1227 establishes a new hearing process for all teacher disciplinary actions—one that will be overseen by hearing officers with legal backgrounds, who will be selected by school boards. This is in response to a court ruling that found 2012’s Act 1 unconstitutionally denied teachers “due process” by requiring immediate loss of tenure and loss of employment upon receiving an “ineffective” rating.

Publicly the Jindal administration has steadfastly denied there was anything wrong with Act 1. But Faircloth, who as the administration’s legal representative worked with the unions and other education associations to craft the compromise bill, admitted—obliquely—that the governor was concerned about the “due process ruling on Act 1.

“My marching orders on this were to make this constitutional,” Faircloth told the House Education committee. “It’s constitutional, it’s fair, and it’s more user-friendly across-the-board.”

Brian Blackwell, attorney for some of the plaintiffs in the constitutional challenges to the 2012 law, also endorsed the compromise bill.

“Is this better than the process that was enacted pursuant to Act 1? The obvious answer to that question is yes. Pretty much anything would be better than the process that was enacted by Act 1,” Blackwell stated.

The measure received unanimous endorsement from the committee, and is now awaiting action by the full House.