Teacher due process arguments heard before Kansas Supreme Court

The Kansas Legislature in 2014 stripped teachers of “tenure” without following the proper procedure when considering a constitutionally protected property right, an attorney for the Kansas National Education Association argued Wednesday.

But attorneys representing Flinthills USD 492 and the state argued the Legislature was within its authority to remove due process job protections without notice or a public hearing.

The dispute over the controversial law was heard Wednesday before the Kansas Supreme Court just hours before a legislative committee hearing on HB 2483, which would restore the former due process system to some teachers.

KNEA Attorney David Schauner described the action by the 2014 Legislature as a “midnight raid” on the due process rights of 25,000 teachers. So-called teacher tenure has been declared a property right in previous rulings by the Kansas Supreme Court, he said.

The provision removing tenure was added to a school funding bill as a Senate amendment late in the session without notice to those affected and without a public hearing. It repealed a teacher’s right to a hearing before an independent officer if the school board decided to non-renew the contract of a teacher who had been employed by the district for at least three years. The measure was supported only by Republicans and signed into law by Gov. Sam Brownback.

Justice Caleb Stegall asked Schauner if a court in any state had ruled that a legislature isn’t allowed to pass bills late at night.

Schauner, however, said because teacher job protection rights are an earned property right there must be a higher standard for considering measures to change that right or take it away without due process.

But Edward Keeley, representing Flinthills USD 492, said tenure rights aren’t constitutional rights. Asked by Justice Lee Johnson if the Legislature must provide any notice or a hearing, Keeley said, “I would say no.” Keeley said as long as elected representatives debate and vote on a measure there is no requirement for a public hearing or notice on proposed legislation.

The court had scheduled 30 minutes for the hearing, but it took an hour as the justices asked attorneys numerous questions. Chief Justice Lawton Nuss said the court would take the matter under advisement.

The case before the court stems from a dispute in which two teachers were dismissed from their jobs from Flinthills USD 492.

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