In his three years as president of the 2,600-member teacher’s union in Shawnee Mission USD 512, Rep. Jerry Stogsdill remembers just a handful of times the union needed to use due process prior to 2014.
In those days, teachers were protected from unfair and unjust firing by state law, which compelled districts to follow due process and outline specific, legally sound reasons to take away a teacher’s job.
Even the possibility of an independent due process hearing tended to keep the good teachers honest and weed out the bad teachers, Stogsdill said.
“This was used by school boards and by teachers’ associations very successfully for 40 years, and for it to go away the way it did was truly reprehensible,” Stogsdill, D-Prairie Village, told the House Education Committee.
Stogsdill on Monday afternoon defended HB 2163, a bill he introduced to restore due process for teachers in Kansas, in front of the committee, on which he also sits.
Due process had been a teacher right in Kansas for 40 years until Legislature stripped it in 2014
The Legislature had originally given teachers and community college faculty due process in 1974, requiring school boards to establish procedures for teachers who believed they had been unjustly fired to appeal their terminations.
But in 2014, the Legislature, in an after-midnight amendment through a conference committee and without a hearing, removed teachers from that statute, leaving only due process for community college faculty.
The topic has been a sore spot for public school teachers in the near-decade since, especially as they point to other bills, like the Kansas Bill of Rights, that they say undermine respect and trust in the teaching profession.
Stogsdill, originally elected in 2017, has since brought up a similar bill multiple times, even getting the bills past the House through amendments to other pieces of legislation. However, those bills didn't make it into law.
He said due process is critical now more than ever as districts grapple with teacher vacancies.
“This is not tenure,” he said. “A lot of people confuse tenure with due process. Tenure is something that is basically at the college-level. Due process just keeps teachers from being terminated for unjust cause.”
He added that teachers would still be subject to a three-year probationary period before qualifying for due process.
Kansas chapter of national teacher’s union supports reinstating due process
Timothy Graham, a lobbyist for the Kansas chapter of the National Education Association teachers union, said the organization supported the bill from several angles.
The first, fairness, would help remedy what he said was the surprising way legislators removed due process protections in 2014 with a middle-of-the-night amendment and without public input.
He also said that due process would be a step, if minor, to encourage more people to join a profession where they feel protected from retaliation for doing their jobs. Many current teachers, he said, are dealing with out-of-control classrooms, and teachers are hesitant to take disciplinary action if they fear they could be fired if a parent complains.
Teacher evaluations, Graham said, have also suffered in the years since due process was repealed. Kansas school districts are legally required to evaluate and give feedback to educators, but without the need to “create a paper trail” to dismiss a teacher, many districts have done the bare minimum to evaluate their teachers, the KNEA representative said.
Bringing back due process could help districts work with any struggling teachers and help them improve, he said. Alternatively, due process could create a stronger legal basis for dismissals.
Additionally, by passing HB 2163 as a symbol of good faith, the Legislature could help break a “vicious cycle of rhetoric and a dynamic distrust” that has grown between public school educators and lawmakers in recent years, Graham said.
“We don’t have to pretend that that doesn’t exist,” Graham told the committee. “We’ve been conditioned — and when I say we, I mean all of us — to somehow believe that we need to be natural enemies. … I know that many of you are worn out by that dynamic, as our a number of our members. It doesn’t have to be like that.”
Kansas school board association opposes statewide due process, urges committee to keep local control
The bill is on one of the rare lines of disagreement between the state teacher’s union and the Kansas Association of School Boards, which lobbies on behalf for public education on behalf of the state’s 286 locally elected school boards.
Leah Fliter, assistant executive director of advocacy and governmental relations for KASB, told the committee that the association preferred to keep the matter at the local level.
“We find that our districts, our administrators, are doing the evaluations, and they are doing the trainings, and they are really working with teachers, because they really want to keep teachers,” she said.
Although nothing has stopped local school districts from adopting due process in their contracts with teachers, Graham said fewer than 10 Kansas districts have done so.
Less than half of school boards have adopted language outlining an appeals process for fired employees, according to KNEA. And even then, that appellate process is redundant, since school boards are the entities that hire or fire individuals anyway, Graham said.
KNEA has little data on how many teachers have been unjustly fired since the repeal of due process, Graham said, precisely because lack of due process has not allowed the teacher’s union to understand the reasons why some individuals have been fired.
Anecdotally, though, Stogsdill said he heard reports of teachers being fired on the basis of gender, sexual orientation and political affiliation.
“Those things should not be reasons for dismissal, and due process protects against that,” Stogsdill said.
“I would certainly agree,” said Rep. Adam Thomas, R-Olathe and chair of the committee. “Many teachers I’ve talked to feel that, for political reasons, they’ve been targeted, but we might not necessarily agree on the how and why on that one.”
Rafael Garcia is an education reporter for the Topeka Capital-Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 785-289-5325. Follow him on Twitter at @byRafaelGarcia.
This article originally appeared on Topeka Capital-Journal: Kansas teacher due process could be restored under HB 2163