Parts of Gov. Bobby Jindal's controversial teacher tenure law passed in 2012 are unconstitutional, a Monroe judge ruled Friday (Feb. 21). Fourth Judicial District Judge Benjamin Jones upheld a decision he made in August that said the law violates the constitutional rights of teachers facing dismissal.
Jindal said in a statement late Friday the ruling would be appealed, adding, "it is important to note that this opinion only impacts the tenure review process. It does not impact the rest of (the law)."
In the original lawsuit, Williams said she received notice she was facing possible dismissal. The notice said Williams could be fired without a hearing, and after she would be able to appeal this decision to a three-person panel. Two members of the panel would be chosen by the school superintendent and principal, who likely recommended her dismissal.
This fire/appeal process was the result of changes included in the 2012 law, known as Act 1.
"(Act 1) gives the superintendent the opportunity to influence selection of two of the panel members," read Jones' ruling. "That's just not a fair procedure."
Jones was forced to re-visit his August decision, after the state Supreme Court vacated it in January, saying state Attorney General Buddy Caldwell didn't have the opportunity to properly participate in the case.
Jones' ruling is the latest blow against Act 1, which deals with school control and teacher tenure, pay for performance and evaluation and amended multiple laws pertaining to superintendent and school board duties, layoffs, contracts, teacher salaries, teacher hiring/firing and tenure.
In an unrelated case, Judge R. Michael Caldwell of the 19th Judicial District in Baton Rouge has also twice ruled aspects of the law unconstitutional.
His initial ruling, made in late 2012, said the law was unconstitutional because it violated the Constitution's "single object" clause that bars bundling too many disparate issues in one piece of legislation. The state Supreme Court vacated his ruling, sending it back because there was new case law.
Like Jones, Caldwell upheld his original ruling in January, siding again with the teachers union that filed the lawsuit against the state. The state quickly appealed Caldwell's ruling back to the Supreme Court.
Debbie Meaux, president of the Louisiana Association of Teachers, said her organization would continue to support their member Williams as the case goes through the appeal process.
"LAE is happy that Judge Jones has examined the law and upheld the rights of a teacher to a 'full and fair due process hearing,'" Meaux said. "We will stand up for and defend our member" going forward.
Scott Richard, executive director of the Louisiana School Board Association, said he was satisfied with Jones' ruling: "The flaws in the law actually impairs the ability of school boards to operate efficiently regarding dismissals."
"Unfortunately, dollars that should flow to classrooms continue to be redirected to expenses associated with litigation as the courts continue to declare parts or all of Act 1 unconstitutional."
The LSBA is not directly involved in either of the Act 1 court cases, but won an earlier case in which the Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional the funding mechanism for Act 2, which expanded the New Orleans school vouchers statewide.
Jindal said the administration would continue to work with all interested parties "to make sure that the law lives up to its intent, such as ensuring due process before the superintendent makes a decision and that the review of the superintendent's decision is fair and timely."