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Added Certification requirements did not deprive teachers of due process

July/August 2009

The imposition of new certification requirements for teachers, as a result of federal No Child Left Behind legislation, did not deprive a teacher of due process although he lost his job as a result of the requirements, the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut ruled July 22 (Ronald J. Sutton v. Abigail L. Hughes, et al.).

The court granted a motion by the defendants, the Connecticut State Department of Education, for dismissal of the complaint.

The case involved the termination of Ronald J. Sutton’s employment as a teacher with the Connecticut Technical High School System.  Sutton held a “091” teacher certification and taught core biology and general science.

Connecticut teachers have three types of certification, initial, provisional and professional, all with different requirements. Until 2002, the state allowed teachers with a “091” certification, which qualified them to teach blueprint reading and other trade-related subjects, to teach core science subjects without having special certificates.

Under the No Child Left Behind Act which became effective in January 2002, all teachers of core academic subjects were required to be “highly qualified,” so the Connecticut schools developed an individual certification plan for each instructor to qualify.

The state wrote to Sutton in 2003 to advise that certain documents would be needed so that his certification analysis could be completed, and that “wholesale grandfathering of 091 [teachers] would not take place.”

In March 2003, Sutton responded to his supervisor that he did not wish to submit the requested materials and he found it “an insult that all of a sudden [he was] not deemed qualified…to teach.. [and] either the state will do what is necessary to certify me or I will move on to other employment.”

After a one-year extension, Sutton continued to refuse to respond to warnings that to become “highly qualified” under the NCLB he had to take the Praxis teacher certification exams.  He lost his teaching and coaching positions as a result.

When he filed suit, he claimed that he had, as a tenured teacher, a protected property interest and the state deprived him of that interest without due process.

However, in dismissing Sutton’s case, the court pointed out that the private interest at stake was not Sutton’s right to teach trade-related subjects under his 091 certificate, but the ability to continue to teach core science subjects without having the appropriate certifications to teach those courses.

The court stated: “It is well settled that, even with respect to a tenured teacher’s vested property rights, a legislature has the power to impose this type of constraint or condition on the way a tenured teacher uses or retains his right to continue teaching.”

“In fact, the Connecticut Supreme Court has ruled that, even if a statute conditioning the renewal of teaching certificates on the successful completion of nine continuing education units burdened or impaired teachers’ property rights, the legislature provided teachers with all the process that was due simply by enacting the statute, publishing it, and affording them a reasonable opportunity to familiarize themselves with the general requirements imposed and to comply with those requirements.”

The court said the Constitution “does not  prevent the state, or even a local or regional school board, from imposing additional educational requirements as a condition for continued service as a teacher. Federal cases support the proposition that such educational requirements do not create an unconstitutional burden.”