Teachers' Rights: Contracts
Employment contracts, commonly known as teaching contracts, are vital documents. They serve as a cornerstone for understanding teachers' rights, duties, and terms of employment.
The law of contracts applies to contracts between teachers and school districts. Contracts consist of four different components to be considered legally valid:
- Offer: A proposal or statement made by one party (the offeror) to the other party (the offeree) expressing a willingness to enter into a contract
- Acceptance: The agreement by the offeree to the terms of the offer
- Mutual Assent: When all parties involved agree upon the terms of the contract
- Consideration: Something of value that each party agrees to give or do for the other (can be a service, money, or a promise)
You should consult a legal professional to determine whether your agreement is legally binding.
This section focuses on laws specific to teaching and education. This article explores various aspects of teacher employment contracts.
Contracts for School Teachers
A teacher's employment contract is a legally binding agreement. This agreement is between a teacher and a public school or school system. The employment contract contains important details such as:
- The duration of employment
- The teacher's obligations
- The expected compensation
- Good causes or just causes for termination
- The procedure for nonrenewal or revocation
- The expectation of performance evaluations
- Other terms and conditions
State statutes and the state board of education often provide the legal framework for these contracts. New teachers might be under a probationary "nonrenewal" contract. This contract can be ended without the need for detailed explanations or notice. Nonrenewal contracts end once their specified date or duration is over. For example, the contract may expire at the end of the school year. After the period ends, the parties can create a new contract or actively agree to a continuing contract.
Ratification of Contracts by School Districts
Even when a school official hires a teacher, and the teacher agrees, state laws usually require the school board to approve the job contract before it's official. After the contract is made, the school district usually approves it. This is often part of a deal made with teachers' unions or as part of a collective bargaining agreement. This step ensures the contract is fair and follows local education rules, laws, and the school district's needs for students and staff.
So, even if a school principal tells a teacher they've got the job, the contract isn't final until the school district says yes to the contract. This is also true if a school district doesn't do things right when deciding whether to approve a contract.
Teacher's Handbook as a Contract
Besides the official contract of employment, a teacher's handbook can sometimes act like an implied contract. There have been cases where teachers have successfully claimed that the rules in the handbook gave them certain rights as if it were a contract. However, this is rare because most teachers' handbooks clearly say they aren't contracts.
The teacher's handbook usually includes the following details:
- The rules and expectations for the teacher's employment
- The education policy for the school district
- What happens if rules are broken (disciplinary action)
- How teacher evaluation will work
- What is expected from full-time teachers
- Other important school procedures
School districts need to follow the rules in these handbooks because they can be as important as legal contracts. To prove that a rule in a handbook is legally important, the teacher must show that both the teacher's and the school district's actions meet the requirements for making a contract.
Breach of Teacher Contract
Breaches of teacher employment contracts can occur because of the fault of either party. School administrators, the board, or the teacher may breach the contract. For example, a school district might fire a teacher without a good cause, which goes against the teacher's rights. Teachers are entitled to due process rights regarding tenure and dismissal.
Another example is if a teacher is fired after taking a leave of absence. Or, a teacher might quit their job without giving the notice they promised to give in their contract. Without such notice, the teacher is in breach of the written contract.
Remedies for Breach of Contract
The usual remedy for a breach of contract between a school district and a teacher is monetary damages. If a school district has breached, the teacher will usually receive the amount the teacher would have received under the contract. Other factors may reduce this amount. Other damages may also be available. This might include the cost of finding other employment.
Nonmonetary remedies are available in some circumstances. This might include the court requiring a school district to rehire a teacher or to comply with contract terms. Courts are usually hesitant to order such remedies. If a teacher breaches a contract, damages may be the cost to the school district for finding a replacement. Many contracts contain provisions prescribing the amount of damages a teacher must pay if they terminate employment before the end of the contract.
Getting Legal Help With Teacher Contracts
If a teacher believes their contract has been violated, seeking legal advice is crucial. Lawyers concentrating in education laws can guide teachers through potential legal issues. They can help them understand their legal rights and their possible courses of action. Professional teacher organizations can also be a valuable resource for legal support.
Speak to an experienced education law attorney today.
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