28 June 2021

Tenured Teacher Loses Layoff and Recall Case

The Michigan Court of Appeals recently released its opinion in Sebald v Belding Area Schools, a case involving the layoff and recall of Sebald, a tenured teacher.  Sebald first became hired by the School District in 1999 and taught multiple subjects during his employment.  But, during the 2016‑2017 school year, Sebald received a rating of “minimally effective” on his evaluation.  At the end of the school year, Sebald was one of several teachers laid off as a result of financial decisions related to declining student enrollment and budget constraints.  No positions became available the following year, and Sebald was not hired to fill positions for which he applied during the following two school years.  Sebald then filed a legal action in court, alleging that the School District’s failure to reinstate him violated the Revised School Code, MCL 380.1 et seq.

Sebald argued that individuals with no performance rating had been selected instead of him, and that, as a teacher with a “minimally effective” rating, the Revised School Code required him to be given preference.  He also argued that the performance evaluation system itself, as administered by the School District, did not comply with the Revised School Code.  As to the School District’s performance evaluation system, the Court of Appeals opined that it offered a vigorous, transparent, and fair evaluation process, as required by MCL 380.1249.  Sebald had been offered constructive feedback and an opportunity to improve his performance – in some ways immediately.  And, his building principal had reviewed his lesson plans.  As a result, the court concluded the School District had not violated MCL 380.1249.

As to the rights of “minimally effective” teachers under the layoff and recall scheme established in MCL 380.1248, the Court of Appeals found no merit to Sebald’s claim.  Under MCL 380.1248, school districts are required to implement a policy that makes teacher performance the majority factor in personnel decisions involving teacher position eliminations, recall, and hiring after a staffing reduction.  Sebald argued that, as a teacher with an established “minimally effective” rating, he was entitled to a position before those with no evaluation.  However, the Court of Appeals noted that the Legislature’s intent in passing MCL 380.1248 was to grant local school district broad discretion relative to personnel decisions, such as teacher recall.  As the court noted, school districts are required to (1) implement a staffing policy ensuring personnel decisions are based on retaining effective teachers, and (2) prevent granting any preference to ineffective teachers over minimally effective, effective, or highly effective teachers.  Thus, the Court of Appeals found that “local districts [must] implement staffing policies on some topics, including the fate of ‘ineffective’ teachers.  But at the same time, [the Legislature] intended for the remainder of the details of staffing policies to be left to local officials.”  Given that the decision to hire teachers with no effectiveness rating over a “minimally effective” rating fell within this “gray area,” the School District did not violate MCL 380.1248, and Sebald’s claim was dismissed.

The opinion may be reviewed here.