Judge: Part of teacher tenure law unconstitutional

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Part of a 2012 law overhauling Louisiana's teacher tenure law was declared unconstitutional Friday by a state district judge in Monroe.

Judge Benjamin Jones ruled in a lawsuit against the Monroe City School Board. He said the constitutional rights of DeAnne Williams, a Monroe teacher facing possible dismissal, were violated because the board would follow a termination and appeal process outlined in the law.

The 2012 law commonly known as Act 1 was a sweeping change in teacher job protections and school board powers that was strongly pushed by Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal.

Sean Lansing, a spokesman for Jindal, said the administration is confident that Act 1 is constitutional.

"Procedures under Act 1 were drafted carefully with due process in mind in order to comply with the U.S. and Louisiana constitutions. We will intervene in the lawsuit and seek a rehearing," he said.

Jones' ruling further complicates the judicial status of the broad law designed to, among other things, make it tougher for teachers to earn the job protection of tenure, and lessen the power of local school boards over a local superintendent's hiring and firing decisions. A state judge in Baton Rouge had declared the law unconstitutional earlier this year, saying it was the result of legislation that contained too many objectives. But the state Supreme Court ordered a review of that ruling. The review is pending.

Jones said in his three-page ruling that Williams had been notified that she was facing disciplinary action that could include termination of her job. He said the disciplinary process included possible termination without a hearing and an appeal to a panel of three people, two of whom would be chosen by the school system superintendent and the principal who likely had recommended her dismissal.

"Trusting that the designee of the superintendent and the principal would not be subject to their influence would be, simply, dumb," Jones wrote, adding that the law gives the superintendent an option not to follow the panel's recommendation.

Jones also said the new law puts limits on court reviews of the case. "Limiting review is acceptable when there is a statutory constituted review panel or board, such as the Board of Review that hears appeals in unemployment cases," Jones wrote. But without such an objective board, the court review cannot be limited, he said.

Act 1's alteration of tenure practices effectively deny all tenured teachers a property right under the U.S. Constitution's 14th Amendment, and due process under the Louisiana Constitution, Jones ruled.

Opponents of the 2012 law hailed the ruling.

"Here's another instance of Governor Jindal's education overhaul laws being struck down in court," Louisiana Association of Educators President Debbie Meaux said in a news release. "We hope that Friday's ruling will set a precedent for pending Act 1 challenges across the state."

A spokesman for the state Education Department said officials there had not seen the ruling, which was filed against a local school board, not state education officials.

KEVIN McGILL,Associated Press

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