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Colorado Court of Appeals revives union lawsuit challenging overhauled teacher tenure law


DENVER — The Colorado Court of Appeals revived a teacher union lawsuit challenging an important part of Colorado's overhauled tenure law Thursday, saying teachers have a right to a hearing before being placed on unpaid leave.

The lawsuit was filed by the Colorado Education Association on behalf of a group of Denver teachers in January 2014, but it was dismissed by a Denver judge later that year.

At issue is a 2010 law that allows tenured teachers who haven't been offered a job to be put on unpaid leave. Tenured teachers have greater job protections than new teachers and, previously, those who lost their jobs in one school because of a drop in enrollment or a school closure or overhaul could be forcibly placed in another school over the objection of that school's principal. Now, principals must approve the placement of a teacher before they can work in their school — a process supporters call "mutual consent."

"When the court looks at the merits of the law, it is clear that they will uphold the legislature's decision to end the harmful practice of forced placement," Denver Public Schools Superintendent Tom Boasberg said in a statement Thursday.

The union says the law unfairly allows school districts to place experienced teachers on leave even if they have good evaluations, avoiding the hearings required before tenured teachers are fired.

The appeals court ruled that tenured teachers have a right to a hearing where they can try to show they were placed on leave arbitrarily or unreasonably. It said District Court Chief Judge Michael Martinez was wrong to conclude that the teachers didn't have a claim. However, the court disagreed with the union's argument that being placed on unpaid leave amounts to being fired. It also didn't get into the rest of the union's arguments, leaving that instead for the Denver court to work out.

The law, which passed with bipartisan support, also links teacher tenure to student performance, but the lawsuit doesn't challenge that portion of the measure. It sets up a statewide teacher-grading system that sorts educators from "highly effective" to "ineffective." Teachers with too many consecutive low ratings could lose tenure, while new teachers and those who have lost their tenure will need passing marks before achieving tenure, or non-probationary status.

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