Originally appeared in the CAS Weekly NewsBlast. Written by Attorney Thomas B. Mooney.

Dear Legal Mailbag:

legal_mailbag_transparentI need some clarification. As a new assistant principal, I am responsible for coordinating meetings with non-tenure teachers to give them the good news or the bad news about their tenure prospects. I took this really good school law course, and I understand that teachers receive tenure after they work for a district for forty consecutive school months. I also know that there are special rules about leaves and layoffs and such. In fact, I even know about “short track” tenure, when a teacher comes to us with tenure from another Connecticut school district. But the basic premise of tenure is clear — when you come to our district without tenure from your last employing school district, you need to work forty school months before you get tenure.

Yesterday, however, I had a very unpleasant conversation with one of the teachers I supervise. She is in her third year of employment in my district, and she has been having some trouble this year. I wanted to give her a friendly heads-up that if she doesn’t turn things around in the next two months, we may well be non-renewing her contract. Being new and enthusiastic, I did my homework before talking to her and, in checking her file, I saw that after working for quite a while for a school district downstate, she had taken a couple of years off and then came to us after working just a year in a neighboring school district. You can imagine my surprise, therefore, when she interrupted me to say that I should save my breath because she already had tenure. She seemed so certain that I didn’t argue with her, but rather mumbled a quick apology and left. But I am ready to meet with her again and straighten her out if I can. Are there any circumstances under which she could be right?

Still Learning

Dear Learning:

Indeed there are. We need to know more about this teacher’s work history to be sure, but from the facts you provided, it is at least possible that this teacher has tenure. We can figure this out together by first reviewing the rules for “short track” tenure and then taking another look at her work history.

As you acknowledged,a teacher may achieve tenure status after twenty months if they come to you from a district in Connecticut where they had tenure, which we often call “short track” tenure. But there is more to the story. The specific wording in the statute is:

any teacher who has attained tenure with any one board of education and whose employment with such board ends for any reason and who is reemployed by such board or is subsequently employed by any other board, shall attain tenure after completion of twenty school months of continuous employment . . . . The provisions of this subparagraph shall not apply if . . . for a period of five or more calendar years immediately prior to such subsequent employment, such teacher has not been employed by any board of education.

Significantly, the statute simply requires that the teacher have had tenure in another Connecticut school district within the preceding five years and is then employed by another Connecticut school district. It is possible for a teacher to take time off, then have just a year’s employment before being hired, and still be eligible for “short track” tenure. The key is to look at the entire five-year period before your district employed the teacher. If the teacher had tenure in a Connecticut school district at any time during those five years, he or she will be eligible for tenure after twenty school months.

Here, we must look to see whether the teacher’s long service (and attainment of tenure) in the district downstate ended less than five years before your district hired her. If she had tenure within that preceding five year period, she achieved tenure status in your district after twenty school months, without regard to the time off and the short stint immediately before she was hired.

Finally, any talk about “short track” tenure wouldn’t be complete without noting that teachers in priority school districts achieve tenure in ten months if they achieved tenure anywhere in the United States ever; the limitations to the preceding five years and to Connecticut school districts do not apply. The General Assembly adopted this special rule for priority school districts in 2010, which is a special burden and problem for priority school districts, because ten months is way too short a time to appropriately evaluate a teacher for tenure status. We can only hope that the General Assembly corrects this mistake in a future session.

Please submit your questions to: legalmailbag@casciac.org.