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Judge rightly rules to protect teachers

We hope Superior Court Judge Robert Hobgood gets the last word on a bad law N.C. legislators approved last year. That law ended job protections for N.C. teachers, and their career status, substituting it with a plan to give the “top 25 percent” four-year contracts and $500 bonuses.

On Friday, Hobgood ruled the lawmakers acted unconstitutionally in ending career status, which some call tenure. He said veteran teachers had already earned that status as part of their employment contracts and had an established right to a layer of review beyond school administrators when they face firing. The law, he noted, unconstitutionally ended rights teachers have that protect contracts and prevents governments from taking their property.

Hobgood also said the substitute plan giving the top 25 percent of teachers raises fails to give superintendents guidelines for selecting those teachers. He echoed what school superintendents statewide have been saying for months. N.C. school systems overwhelmingly disapprove of the law, with superintendents saying there's no fair way to designate a top 25 percent when the majority of teachers do good work.

Hobgood was right to permanently enjoin the law. The ruling applies statewide, not just to Guilford and Durham counties, where six teachers filed lawsuits.

Last week we urged lawmakers to ditch this law during their short session that’s under way. We repeat that today. Time and tax dollars are being wasted in litigation.

If the past is an indicator, lawmakers are likely to appeal, as they’ve done with other court rulings on controversial laws they passed last year. But it is wrong to string this matter out with more legal action. The law was a wrongheaded move – and an unnecessary one.

Proponents contended that the new law, set to go into effect in 2018, was needed to ensure that bad teachers could be removed from the classroom. They argued that the current system protected poor performers.

Hogwash. Bad teachers could be fired before this law. The current system, in place since 1971, only guaranteed educators a hearing.

Hobgood’s ruling now reiterates that fact.

Unfortunately, this injunction applies only to teachers who already have career status. Teachers without such status – which is granted to those who made it beyond the first four years of a probationary period – are not covered.

Lawmakers should give up this fight. But if they won’t, they should suspend the process for teachers not covered by this injunction until litigation is done.

A two-tiered system where some teachers have hearing rights that others do not would compound the bad legislative decision a judge has now rightly upended.

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