Fast Legal Answers: California Education Code § 44929.21 – non-reelection of probationary teachers

 

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Today in my Fast Legal Answers series I am going to discuss a California Education Code § 44929.21(b). Probably one of the harder-to-read statutes I’ve looked at in a while, it covers the process school districts follow when they decide not to reelect a probationary teacher in California. The relevant part of the statute provides:

(b) Every employee of a school district of any type or class
having an average daily attendance of 250 or more who, after having
been employed by the district for two complete consecutive school
years in a position or positions requiring certification
qualifications, is reelected for the next succeeding school year to a
position requiring certification qualifications shall, at the
commencement of the succeeding school year be classified as and
become a permanent employee of the district.
   The governing board shall notify the employee, on or before March
15 of the employee's second complete consecutive school year of
employment by the district in a position or positions requiring
certification qualifications, of the decision to reelect or not
reelect the employee for the next succeeding school year to the
position. In the event that the governing board does not give notice
pursuant to this section on or before March 15, the employee shall be
deemed reelected for the next succeeding school year.
   This subdivision shall apply only to probationary employees whose
probationary period commenced during the 1983-84 fiscal year or any
fiscal year thereafter.

(emphasis mine)

Can you explain that law in plain English?

The law provides that if a probationary teacher is employed by the district for two consecutive years they will become a permanent (tenured) teacher at the start of their third school year. The district can decide not to reelect a probationary teacher in the first two years of the probationary period.  However, they must do so by March 15th of the last probationary school year. If the district does nothing (doesn’t notify the teacher of non-reelection prior to March 15th) the teacher is deemed reelected for the following year.

What are the core principles of that statue in visual form?

Visual guide to California Education Code § 44929.21

So what reasons does the district have to give for not reelecting me?

Actually, none. If you are a probationary teacher the district can decide not to reelect you for any or no reason at all. All they have to do is get you the notice of non-reelection before March 15 of your second complete school year as a certified probationary teacher. California courts have recognized the great discretion districts have in this regard: The public school district has “the absolute right to decide not to reelect probationary teachers without providing cause or other procedural protections.” Sunnyvale Unified School District v. Jacobs, 171 Cal. App. 4th 168 (Ct. App. 2009).

Well that doesn’t seem fair…

Contrasted with the great amount of protections for permanent teachers it certainly does not seem fair. But this provisions allows districts to weed out underperforming or apparently troubled teachers before they become tenured, and it is much more difficult to fire them. The California Court of Appeals has openly acknowledged this balance “[t]his seemingly draconian provision [talking about § 44929.21(b)]  represents the Legislature’s balance between the rights of the teacher and the overall purpose of the system of public education, which is to educate the young.” Sunnyvale Unified School District v. Jacobs, 171 Cal. App. 4th 168 (Ct. App. 2009).

What are my options?

Well your options are somewhat limited. Since the district has the absolute right not to reelect you while you are a probationary employee, it is very difficult to challenge a non-reelection. Collateral challenges to non-reelections through a claim of protected whistleblowing activity are not always viewed favorably by the courts. See, e.g., Conn v. Western Placer Unified School Dist., 186 Cal. App. 4th 1163, 113 Cal. Rptr. 3d 116 (Ct. App. 2010) (“to exalt these ‘disclosures with whistle[-]blower status would create all sorts of mischief. Most damagingly, it would thrust the judiciary into micromanaging employment practices and create a legion of undeserving protected `whistle[-]blowers’ arising from the routine workings and communications of the job site.”). For courts to accept whistleblowing claims the disclosures need to be of significant magnitude including violations of state or federal law. Claiming that your non-reelection is based on discrimination, say for your sexual orientation, can sometimes be grounds for getting a decision reevaluated or getting concessions from a district. However, discrimination cases are extremely fact dependant.

Ultimately, each case is different. Non re-elections are difficult to challenge; it is an uphill battle. However, if you think your non-reelection was a result of protected whistleblowing activity or discrimination you should contact an attorney. Contact us for a free consultation.

Conclusion

Probationary teachers have drastically limited rights when it comes to non-reelections. If you are a teacher that has been notified of your non-reelection you may want to pursue a resignation in lieu of non-reelection. Districts have broad discretion when it comes to reelection. So, in some cases, rather than trying to fight a reelection it may be better just to move on and find employment elsewhere. If you do want to challenge a non-reelection you need to consider whether your non-reelection was based on your membership in a protected class or a protected disclosure you made.