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Teachers Union Sues Over Colorado Dismissal Law

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DENVER (AP) - Colorado’s largest teachers union is challenging the firings of about 100 Denver teachers and a 2010 law that enabled the dismissals, union officials announced Wednesday.

The Colorado Education Association filed a lawsuit and announced Democratic-sponsored legislation to tweak the law. The union said that the law unfairly allows school districts to place experienced teachers on unpaid leave even though they have good evaluations.

CEA President Kerrie Dallman told reporters that some districts are using that “mutual consent” part of the new law “to unfairly and systematically remove highly experienced and qualified teachers from our classrooms.”

The union said the firings are happening only in Denver, where a disproportionate number of experienced teachers placed on unpaid leave have been teachers of color.

The union says the law needs to be changed statewide to prevent districts from being able to circumvent firing and layoff requirements by simply placing educators on permanent unpaid leave if they no principal wants to hire them.

The union insists it doesn’t want to change the main thrust of the new law, which establishes 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 on probationary status will need passing marks before achieving tenure, or non-probationary status.

After several years of pilot testing, the effectiveness ratings began for all 178 Colorado school districts this school year.

“We have been and still are supportive of having a fair and rigorous evaluation system,” said Amie Baca-Oehlert, the union’s vice president and a high school counselor in Adams County.

The Democratic sponsor of the law, Sen. Michael Johnston, insists the “mutual consent” provision is an important modernization for the profession. Johnston’s opposition indicates that Democratic leaders will look critically at suggested changes, even coming from other Democrats.

“They want to keep the old system where teachers would have a lifetime job guarantee even if no one in the district wants to hire them for an open position,” Johnston said.

Republicans were even sharper in their objection to the change.

“Instead of promoting the best teachers for our kids, they are trying to protect the worst ones in our schools. This action is shameful,” Senate Republican Leader Bill Cadman said in a statement Wednesday.

Democratic Sen. Nancy Todd, a retired teacher who plans to sponsor the union’s effort, was circumspect Wednesday about the upcoming bill’s chances of success. Todd voted against the overall evaluation bill in 2010

“I can’t state strongly enough that we are not seeking to put a halt to teacher evaluations,” Todd told reporters. But she added, “Teachers are being dismissed without cause.”

- By Kristen Wyatt, AP Writer

(© Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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