Is the sky really falling? DC schools and the UN-firing of 75 teachers

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Media coverage of a recent ruling supposedly finding that DC schools must reinstate the 75 teachers it had dismissed in 2008 is looking more and more like a case of Chicken Little. Conversations with DCPS officials indicate their interpretation of the ruling only requires them to consider reinstatement, and not, as the press reported, automatically reinstate anyone.

That being said, DCPS isn't taking any chances, choosing to appeal the arbitrator's decision, with the surprising support of new mayor Vincent Gray. Gray was backed by the Washington Teachers' Union and the AFT in his election, and a lot of people assumed he wouldn't have the guts to fire teachers.

The ruling found that DCPS was well within its right to fire the teachers, none of whom had yet earned tenure, but that it acted improperly by not providing teachers an opportunity to improve or giving them reasons for their dismissal. The irony is that even though these teachers did not have tenure, the contract in place at the time effectively afforded them the same due process rights as tenured teachers. (You can be sure that's no longer the case under the new contract.)

Reinstatement guarantees teachers a return to their former or comparable positions and their previous probationary status. However, their former positions are likely unavailable. And the new contract doesn't allow reinstated teachers to bump others from their positions. In other words, there must be an available vacancy.

DCPS tells us that only two teachers have thus far sought reinstatement with the district, and it hasn't reinstated either teacher. For its part, the WTU says it has received "dozens of phone calls," but was unable to provide an exact number of teachers who have come forward. DCPS says it will be reviewing each candidate on a case by case basis. Only those teachers who are actually reinstated will receive back pay.