Colorado Supreme Court to Hear Mutual Consent Lawsuit

Written by: Leslie Colwell
Date Posted: March 25, 2016

Colorado’s highest court announced this week that it will hear a lawsuit brought by current and former Denver Public Schools teachers alleging that DPS is misusing the state’s educator effectiveness law to eliminate teachers with non-probationary status, or tenure. We were excited to see this development given our opposition to House Bill 1099, a bill that would allow forced placement of educators in Colorado schools and will be considered soon by the General Assembly.

A critical provision of Senate Bill 10-191, passed in 2010, ended the practice of “forced placement,” in which non-probationary teachers who lost their positions (often because of declining enrollment) were assigned to open positions at other schools, regardless of fit. Teachers were force-placed most often at high-poverty schools, which meant the kids most in need of quality teaching were disproportionately taught by teachers who had not necessarily chosen to be in their school. Since 2010, DPS has given these teachers temporary assignments, with the expectation that they will seek and secure positions at schools where principals want to hire them. Out of approximately 1,500 teachers who have lost their positions due to reductions in their building, 53 teachers have not been able to secure such a position in 18 months, meaning they were placed on indefinite unpaid leave.

The DPS teachers who brought the lawsuit against DPS and the State Board of Education allege it is unconstitutional to place non-probationary teachers on unpaid leave, despite the fact that the Denver District Court sided with DPS and dismissed the original case. The District Court’s ruling found that putting a teacher on unpaid leave is different than firing him or her without due process. When the teachers appealed, the Colorado Court of Appeals reinstated the case, leading DPS to ask for an opinion from the Supreme Court.

While the issue of mutual consent has been playing out in the court system, House Bill 16-1099 was introduced earlier this session. It would end mutual consent and reinstate the practice of forced placement, which is not only antiquated but harmful to schools, teachers, and most importantly, kids. House Bill 1099 would put the needs of adults over the needs of our children by allowing forced placement of educators in our schools.

Mutual consent empowers school leaders with the autonomy to match the needs of students with the interests and needs of teachers seeking employment. When teachers are forced to teach at schools they do not wish to teach in, or principals are forced to hire a teacher they do not feel is the right fit for their school, it is the students who suffer the most. The Children’s Campaign strongly supported the mutual consent provision within SB10-191, and we continue to support it now.

We are hopeful that with the Colorado Supreme Court addressing this issue, members of the General Assembly will recognize that legislation is preemptive and unnecessary. Please stay tuned for additional updates and an opportunity to speak up on this issue.

Leslie Colwell

About Leslie Colwell

Leslie Colwell serves as the Vice President of K-12 Education Initiatives, leading the Campaign’s work to improve education in the state of Colorado. Before joining the Children’s Campaign in August of 2014, Leslie worked to facilitate partnerships and produce policy agreements, especially in the area of education as an Associate at The Keystone Center. Her professional experience includes working as Legislative Director for State Senator Mike Johnston, managing his education policy portfolio (including his office’s work on HB12-1238, Colorado’s READ Act, and SB13-033, ASSET), and directing a policy fellowship for educators for three summers. Leslie has also worked on Teach For America’s alumni team, and before that taught 6th grade Math and Earth Science as a TFA corps member at Mary McLeod Bethune Middle School in Los Angeles. She currently serves on the board of the Colorado Latino Leadership, Advocacy & Research Organization (CLLARO) and on the steering committee of the Colorado Afterschool Partnership.