Most states protect teachers in public schools from arbitrary dismissal through tenure statutes. Under these tenure statutes, once a teacher has attained tenure, his or her contract renews automatically each year. School districts may dismiss tenured teachers only by a showing of cause, after following such procedural requirements as providing notice to the teacher, specifying the charges against the teacher, and providing the teacher with a meaningful hearing. Most tenure statutes require teachers to remain employed during a probationary period for a certain number of years. Once this probationary period has ended, teachers in some states will earn tenure automatically. In other states, the local school board must take some action to grant tenure to the teacher, often at the conclusion of a review of the teacher’s performance. Tenure also provides some protection for teachers against demotion, salary reductions, and other discipline. However, tenure does not guarantee that a teacher may retain a particular position, such as a coaching position, nor does it provide indefinite employment.

Prior to attaining tenure, a probationary teacher may be dismissed at the discretion of the school district, subject to contractual and constitutional restrictions. Laws other than those governing tenure will apply to determine whether a discharge of a teacher is wrongful. If a probationary teacher’s dismissal does not involve discrimination or does not violate terms of the teacher’s contract, the school district most likely does not need to provide notice, summary of charges, or a hearing to the teacher.

In the absence of a state tenure statute, a teacher may still attain de facto tenure rights if the customs or circumstances of employment demonstrate that a teacher has a “legitimate claim of entitlement for job tenure.” The United States Supreme Court recognized this right in the case of Perry v. Sindermann, which also held that where a teacher has attained de facto tenure, the teacher is entitled to due process prior to dismissal by the school district.

State laws do not govern the tenure process at private schools. However, a contract between a private school district and a teacher may provide tenure rights, though enforcement of these rights is related to the contract rights rather than rights granted through the state tenure statute.

Inside Tenure