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Tenure Commission Rejects Laid-off Teacher's Claim That She Was Unlawfully Denied Recall

By Eric C. Griggs / Nov 10, 2014

A recent teacher tenure decision upheld a school district's decision to fill a vacancy by hiring a new employee instead of recalling a tenured teacher, after the school district considered factors other than those specified within section 1248 of the School Code. In Weidendorf v West Bloomfield School District, Case No. 14-3, the issue was whether the District's decision to not recall a tenured teacher was made in bad faith or was arbitrary or capricious. The facts were as follows: a tenured teacher with twenty-three years' experience in the District was placed on layoff as part of a necessary reduction in personnel prior to the 2013-2014 school year. In January of 2014, a split middle school teaching assignment consisting of three sections of sixth grade geography and two sections of eighth grade U.S. history became available.  Believing she was certified and highly-qualified for the assignment, the teacher requested recall to the open position. When the District instead hired an individual who had been serving as a long term substitute in the District, the teacher appealed to the Tenure Commission and claimed the District's decision was arbitrary and capricious and was made in bad faith. 

The District's Assistant Superintendent testified that he decided not to recall the teacher to the open assignment based upon the criteria set forth in the District's Layoff and Recall Policy, which stated as follows:

In the event of a layoff or recall of teachers whose employment is regulated by the Teacher Tenure Act . . . the District will lay off the least effective teachers first and recall the most effective of those who were laid-off. . . . Notwithstanding the foregoing, the District may also consider building, grade and subject assignment; certification; qualifications; and recency of relevant teaching assignments when identifying the group of teachers subject to layoff and/or recall.

The Assistant Superintendent explained the open position the teacher sought was drastically different than the assignment she had been recently teaching. Specifically, the teacher had been teaching high school German, French, and economics; she had never taught geography, and she had taught only one history course ten years earlier. Moreover, the teacher had little relevant academic training in the content of the courses she would be called upon to teach if recalled; she had not taken any college geography courses and had taken three college history courses, only one of which was related to U.S. history. Finally, the teacher had never taught at the middle school level and had been rated "minimally effective" on her year-end performance evaluation for the 2012-2013 school year.

Based on these facts, an administrative law judge of the Tenure Commission concluded that the District's decision to not recall the teacher was not made in bad faith and was not arbitrary or capricious. The District's Assistant Superintendent had "applied the district's recall standards in a reasonable manner and expressed cogent reasons not to recall [the teacher]." The judge was not persuaded by the teacher's argument that the District had a past practice of assigning teachers to positions that they had never taught. Finally, the judge concluded the teacher was not highly qualified, pursuant to the No Child Left Behind Act, to teach the sixth grade geography classes because she had not taken the required coursework in geography. As such, she was not highly qualified for the entire split assignment and was not eligible for placement in that position. Since neither party filed exceptions to the judge's preliminary decision, it has become the final decision of the Teacher Tenure Commission.

Weidendorf is an important tenure decision because it supports a school board's reliance upon a layoff and recall policy that is not limited to the specific factors listed in Section 1248(1)(b)(i) of the Revised School Code, MCL 380.1248(1)(b)(i). Weidendorf suggests that as long as the criteria a district considers when making a layoff and recall decision is based on retaining effective teachers and is not applied in an arbitrary or capricious manner, the district's decision should be upheld.  

If you have questions about the Weidendorf decision or your district's layoff and recall policy or guidelines, please contact Eric Griggs at (616) 608-1147 | egriggs@clarkhill.com or your Clark Hill Education Law attorney.