In 2011, the state of Tennessee updated its tenure laws to make it more challenging for public school teachers to get and keep tenure. The tenured educator must earn consistently high marks in an annual teacher evaluation or risk losing tenure.
If a teacher is dismissed, it can only be for cause. Educators are entitled to due process and can appeal decisions regarding their dismissal in a series of hearings.
A teacher who transfers from one school district to another may be able to continue their tenure at their new school, depending on when they first acquired it. Probationary years served at their former school may be counted toward tenure requirements.
Dismissal for Cause for Tenured Teachers
Tenure does not guarantee a teacher a job for life, but tenured teachers also do not face contract non-renewal. A teacher who has earned tenure status cannot be dismissed without cause. Teachers are entitled to due process if they are dismissed from their position.
In Tennessee, a tenure teacher can be dismissed because of:
- Unbecoming conduct — including immorality; felony conviction for a crime of moral turpitude; unreliability; dishonesty; refusal to and continued willful failure to pay debts; using drugs or other intoxicants; and disregard of the teachers’ code of ethics.
- Insubordination — including refusal or failure to obey Tennessee school laws; failure to comply with school board rules and regulations; failure to carry out assignments or those of the principal or director of schools.
- Neglect of duty
Tennessee Teacher Tenure Requirements
A teacher will be recommended for tenure in Tennessee if they meet specific eligibility requirements pursuant to T.C.A. Section 49-5-503:
- Education. Teacher holds a degree from an approved four-year college. A tech or career educator must have an equal amount of training that has been established and licensed by the Tennessee Board of Education.
- License. Teacher holds a valid teaching license from the Tennessee Board of Education for the grades they teach or that covers specific subjects.
- Probation. Teacher has finished a five-school-year probation period or a probationary period of not less than 45 months within the last seven years, and spent the final two years of that time employed in a regular teaching position.
- Effectiveness. Teacher evaluations have shown a level of overall effectiveness (LOE) above or significantly above expectations according to guidelines and rules from the Tennessee Board of Education during the probationary period’s last two years.
- Employment. School director re-employs the teacher after the probationary period.
A teacher may find themselves on probation if they have two years of showing inefficient scores from their evaluations. They must have two consistent years with above or significantly above expectation scores to get tenure. LOE scores are measured by professional growth, student achievement and qualitative measures.
Appealing a Tenure Termination
Under Tennessee state law, terminated teachers with tenure can appeal their dismissal multiple times. According to due process rights, the teacher will be informed of the cause of disciplinary action in writing.
After receiving notice, they can request a hearing before an impartial hearing officer within 30 days of the notification.
All parties involved in the decision to terminate the teacher may have legal representation in the hearing and can examine evidence, subpoena or call witnesses, and require testimony under oath.
If the teacher does not agree with the impartial hearing officer’s decision, they can file an appeal with the school board within 10 days of the hearing’s end. If they do not agree with the school board’s decision, they can appeal in the county chancery court within 20 days.
Recommendations for Tenure in Tennessee
The director of schools and local boards of education recommend a teacher for tenure in Tennessee. The director of schools also notifies teachers of their failure to reach tenure. After the director of schools recommends a teacher, the board of education elects teachers who are eligible for tenure.
Once a teacher is eligible for tenure, they will be either recommended by the director of schools for tenure or for contract nonrenewal. The teacher cannot continue to be employed if tenure is not granted by the board of education.
Transfer of a Teacher With Tenure Status
A teacher can take their tenure status with them if they transfer to another local education agency (LEA), but this depends on when tenure was granted.
A teacher who transfers to a new LEA and gained tenure before July 1, 2011, will not lose that tenure. Those teachers who were granted tenure after that date are subject to the requirements listed above in order to maintain it after transfer.
A transferring teacher will be returned to probationary status after two consecutive years of insufficient evaluations according to state board of education guidelines. Nontenured teachers who transfer from one LEA to another may count years of their probationary period served at their former LEA when calculating the probation requirement of five years.
Termination of Teacher Contracts
According to T.C.A. Section 49-5-409, nontenured teachers must get notification within five business days of the last instructional day of the current school year if their contract is not renewed for the next school year. This is known as a “nonrenewal” and is different from a tenure decision.
Tenure decisions may only occur when a teacher becomes eligible and are not made until all information regarding their eligibility is available.
Michelle Nati is an associate editor and writer who has reported on legal, criminal and government news for PasadenaNow.com and Complex Media. She holds a B.A. in Communications and English from Niagara University.