Published by MARE, March 2014

According to the Teacher Tenure Act (“Act”), an individual acquires permanent teacher status once he or she is employed in the same school district as a teacher for five successive years and then is rehired by that school district to continue as a certificated employee. Until that time, a teacher is considered probationary. However, if a probationary teacher is “employed at any other school system as a teacher for two or more years” prior to their employment at the school district, that district must waive one year of the probationary period. This begs the question: what type of teaching experience does a probationary teacher need in order to waive one of the five years? In an opinion dated June 11, 2013, the Missouri Court of Appeals for the Western District addressed this issue in Stolov v. Jackson County School District C-1 of Hickman Mills[1].

In Stolov, a teacher was employed at Hickman Mills C-1 School District (“District”) for five successive school years from 2002 to 2007. The District decided not to renew his contract for the 2007-2008 school year and did not provide the teacher with notice or an opportunity for a hearing before the non-renewal decision was made. Before teaching at the District, the teacher was employed in an instructional capacity with several other entities over a period of nine years. For example, he taught for University of Missouri – Kansas City (UMKC); Archbishop O’Hara High School; Christ the King Elementary; Baker University; and Clay County Juvenile Detention Center. With the exception of UMKC, he held each position for approximately one year or less.

After the District decided not to renew his contract, the teacher brought suit claiming that he was eligible for one year of credit towards permanent status because of his previous instructional experiences. With the additional year of credit, the 2006-2007 school year would have been his sixth successive year teaching for the District, rendering him a permanent teacher under the Act and entitling him to certain procedural protections before the District could remove him. In opposition, the District argued that the teacher’s prior instructional experiences failed to meet the statutory requirements to qualify him for credit toward permanent teacher status and, consequently, the 2006-2007 school year was the teacher’s fifth, rather than sixth, successive year with the District.

The Court of Appeals agreed with the District and held that this teacher did not qualify for the one-year waiver because his past experience was not “as a teacher,” as “teacher” is defined in the Act.   The Court stated that in order to be considered a “teacher,” an individual must (1) teach in a public school, (2) in grades kindergarten through twelve, and (3) have a valid teaching certificate. Accordingly, to fall within the one-year waiver provision, a person’s past teaching experiences “in any other school system” must have been (1) in public schools, containing grades kindergarten through twelve, or in a prekindergarten program in which no fees are charged to parents or guardians; (3) pursuant to the authority of a valid teaching certificate; and (4) for at least a two-year duration.

The teacher in this case did not obtain his teaching certificate until 2001. Therefore, according to the Court, he could not be a “teacher” before 2001. Prior to starting at the District, the only teaching experiences the teacher had after 2001 were at Christ the King Elementary School during the 2001-2002 school year, and the Clay County Juvenile Detention Center during the summer of 2002. The Court made clear that these experiences did not meet the requirements of the statute because neither institution was a public school. Moreover, the Court stated that these experiences would not qualify for the waiver under any interpretation of the Act because the total amount of time amounted to less than two years.[2]

The Court also specifically addressed why the legislature used the term “school system,” instead of “school district” in the waiver provision. The teacher argued that the legislature used the phrase “school system,” to mean any place where people of any age are educated in some manner. However, the Court disagreed with such a broad reading of the phrase. The Court stated that the legislature’s intent in using the phrase, “school system,” was to include those teachers who otherwise meet the definition of “teacher,” but whose experience was in a metropolitan or charter school district.

Because the Court concluded that the teacher was probationary at the time of his non-renewal, he had no right to contract renewal or any of the additional procedural protections provided under the Act to permanent teachers before termination. The only procedural protection afforded a probationary teacher is that the school board must notify him of its decision not to renew his contract no later than the fifteenth day of April. The board is only required to provide a concise statement of the reason or reasons for the termination upon a request from the teacher.   The teacher in Stolov did not make any such request and was properly informed of his non-renewal before April fifteenth.

After Stolov, administrators in Missouri have a much clearer idea of what type of instructional experience a teacher must have in order to acquire tenure in four years, instead of five. Now, probationary teachers may only qualify for the one-year waiver if they have worked at a charter or public school in Missouri or another state for two or more years.

 

[1] 408 S.W.3d 218 (Mo. W. App. 2013).

[2] The Court acknowledged in a footnote that neither the Act nor case law provides guidance regarding whether the “two or more years” language in section 168.104(7) allows the stacking of experience at various institutions to add up to a total of two years, or whether the two or more years must occur at the same institution. The Court did not rule on this issue.

© 2014 Mickes Goldman O’Toole, LLC