Appeals court hears fight over North Carolina teacher tenure

RALEIGH (WTVD) -- Teachers are ratcheting up their fight against a controversial state law that eliminates tenure.

Thursday morning, a skeptical three-judge panel at the N.C. Court of Appeals heard arguments over the legislative amendment that forces veteran educators to give up so-called "career status" in exchange for raises and temporary contracts.

Under the new law, tenure would be completely phased out by 2018.

In 2013, the North Carolina Association of Educators sued over the law, and last year Superior Court Judge Robert Hobgood ruled that eliminating tenure was unconstitutional. The decision did not apply to teachers who had yet to earn tenure.

Tenure gives public school teachers extra due process rights, including the right to a hearing if they're disciplined or fired.

Supporters of the new law said it will promote better classroom performance, but teachers argue it could lead to quick firings without much reason.

"This is not about the self-interest of North Carolina in terms of these legislative enactments. These are about making educational policy which the legislature is duty bound to do under the Constitution," said Deputy Attorney General Melissa Trippe.

The judges questioned Trippe about teachers' rights and legal precedents.

"Due process is still met even though they have no right to a hearing," asked Judge Chris Dillon.

Trippe argued the law simply shortens review periods for teachers and modifies the conditions of employment. She said local school boards would still have the option of holding a hearing.

"One of the benefits to teachers under the career status law is they knew where they stood. They could teach controversial subjects. They could advocate for their students in ways that maybe administrators wouldn't appreciate. They could do those things because they weren't crossing the lines in the statute. Now, they don't know where they stand," said Narendra Ghosh, an attorney for the NCAE and several teachers.

Ghosh told judges the new law will inevitably drive out good teachers. Judge Linda Stephens shared the same concern.

"How in the world are we going to attract better teachers when not only have they historically received extremely low salaries for being teacher in North Carolina, they've gotten no raises, and now they have no career status option," asked Stephens.

The N.C. Court of Appeals is now reviewing both sides of the case.

A decision is still months away.

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