A Las Vegas judge soon will rule on a case that could dictate how the Clark County School District removes ineffective and poorly performing educators from the classroom.
Four teachers and their union, the Clark County Education Association, filed a lawsuit last fall challenging the district’s decision to place the teachers on probation and eventually decline to renew their contracts after they received a series of negative performance evaluations over three years.
In 2011, state lawmakers overwhelmingly passed legislation to make it easier for districts to get rid of bad teachers. But the law also includes protections, such as an appeals process, for educators to protest what they consider flawed evaluations or a bias on the part of the evaluator.
The Clark County School District employs more than 18,000 teachers.
Three of the teachers who sued the district currently have appeals pending with an arbitrator, prompting Clark County District Judge Ronald Israel on Thursday to dismiss their cases as prematurely filed.
The fourth plaintiff, however, Eldorado High School teacher Alicia Lozeron, has no appeals left and claims the school district improperly kicked her out of the classroom despite earning two out of three satisfactory evaluations.
“If we were to accept what (Lozeron’s) asking, a poorly performing teacher can perform ineffectively for one-third of the year, and this law will do nothing to make it easier to (remove) them, the way the legislature intended,” said Jon Okazaki, an attorney for the school district.
“If you’re ineffective during the school year, we don’t tolerate that,” he added. “You need to be effective the entire year.”
State law requires districts to place tenured teachers on a probationary status after they receive unsatisfactory evaluations for two consecutive years. The teachers then receive three additional evaluations, and if their performance does not improve, the district can choose not to renew their contracts, essentially firing them at the end of the school year.
Lozeron’s attorney, Frank Flaherty, argued on Thursday that her one unsatisfactory evaluation should not outweigh the two satisfactory evaluations she earned during the probationary period.
“The district got it wrong,” Flaherty said, requesting the judge return Lozeron to a post-probationary status.
Appearing frustrated, Okazaki asked whether Flaherty believed the district could only remove a teacher once she received a majority of unsatisfactory evaluations or if the most recent evaluation was unsatisfactory.
Flaherty reminded Israel that Lozeron’s case involved neither of those scenarios.
“It’s certainly not my job to get into hypotheticals,” Israel replied.
The case resembles a similar lawsuit filed in federal court in Las Vegas last July, when a group of 15 teachers who lost their jobs claimed a violation of their contract rights and their due process protection under the U.S. Constitution.
A judge has yet to rule in that case, but Israel will issue his decision on whether to dismiss Lozeron’s lawsuit on March 23.
He acknowledged that his ruling could impact the job security of every teacher who works in Clark County and possibly across Nevada, should either party appeal his decision.
“Obviously this affects more than just one plaintiff,” Israel said.
“One way or another,” he added, “this is going up” to the state Supreme Court.
Contact Neal Morton at email@example.com or 702-383-0279. Find him on Twitter: @nealtmorton