Is it Really Impossible to Fire "Incompetent" Teachers in New York?

You often hear critics of New York public schools argue that it is “impossible to fire bad teachers” due to tenure and civil service laws, but that is not true. In fact, school systems can and do fire teachers for “incompetence” and similar reasons. All the law does is provide the teachers with certain due process protections, including the right to challenge an adverse employment decision in what is commonly known as an Article 78 proceeding.

Judge Rejects Teacher's Appeal of Nine-Month Suspension, Orders Development Classes

Here is a recent example of how such proceedings were used–in this case unsuccessfully–to challenge a teacher's suspension. The plaintiff worked for the New York City Board of Education as a tenured science teacher for more than 30 years. In recent years, the plaintiff served as a biology teacher and dean at a high school in Brooklyn.

Four years ago, the Board charged the plaintiff with neglecting her duties and providing “incompetent and inefficient service.” More specifically, the Board said the plaintiff “failed to properly” execute lesson plans on several dates. She also allegedly “failed to follow school policy and procedure” and “failed to accept” recommendations for improving her classroom performance.

The plaintiff disputed these charges, leading to a hearing under the teacher's collective bargaining agreement with the Department. A hearing officer heard testimony over a 10-day period and issued a decision in favor of the Board on most of its charges. While agreeing with the Board's view that the plaintiff was “an ineffective teacher,” he nevertheless decided that termination was not appropriate in this situation. Instead, he suspended the plaintiff without pay for a period of at least nine months, during which time she was required to “complete multiple hours of course work in the areas of lesson planning and execution.”

The plaintiff disagreed with the hearing officer's decision, leading her to commence an Article 78 proceeding in Manhattan Supreme Court. On May 24, 2018, Justice Debra A. James dismissed the plaintiff's complaint. The judge said the hearing officer's findings “were rational and were not arbitrary and capricious.” Nor was the ultimate penalty “shocking” or inappropriate. To the contrary, the judge noted that “the penalty of suspension and remediation is not disproportionate to the offense, because the charges against petitioner are directly related to her deficiencies in the classroom.” The judge pointed out that in other cases involving teacher incompetence, the courts “have routinely upheld the penalty of termination.”

Are You Facing Civil Service Discipline? Call Us Today

Everyone acknowledges that teachers have a difficult job. Civil service protections exist to ensure no teacher is treated arbitrarily or unfairly. If you are a public employee who is facing a disciplinary hearing, you should speak with a qualified New York employment attorney who can advise you of your rights and, if necessary, initiate an Article 78 proceeding on your behalf. Contact the Law Offices of White, Nisar & Hilferty, LLP, to speak with a lawyer today.