Right wing politicians and greedy corporate interests have increasingly been at the forefront of efforts to do away with publicly funded education. These efforts have led to a piecemeal erosion of the historical responsibility of government to ensure that education is freely available to all, as well as to an increase in public education being supplied by for-profit corporations and entities.
But the attacks on the educational system has not been limited to institutional changes. On the contrary, efforts to eliminate the promise of public education has included ad hominem assaults on teachers and their unions, and more specifically, vocal demands for changes in statutory protections which afford teachers protections against arbitrary terminations. Clearly, the interests lobbying against public funding of education and against teachers would like nothing more than to strip teachers of basic civil rights which protect them from unwarranted discharge.
Nevertheless, Ohio currently provides teachers with strong protections against unfair terminations. Ohio Revised Code Section 3319.16 is the primary Ohio statute which regulates the termination of tenured teachers. Thus, under this statute a teacher’s contract may not be terminated unless there exists “good and proper cause.” If a Board of Education wishes to terminate a teacher it must first provide a teacher with notice and a full specification of grounds why the school Board is considering terminating the teacher in question. Once such notice is provided to the teacher, the teacher then has the option of demanding a hearing before the Board of Education or before a neutral referee. Inasmuch as it is unlikely that a Board of Education considering termination of a teacher could be impartial, teachers overwhelmingly demand their matter be heard by a neutral referee.
At the hearing before a referee, the teacher has the full right to be represented by an attorney, have witnesses testify under oath, cross-examine witnesses, have a record made of the proceedings, and have subpoenas issued to complete the attendance of witnesses. After the hearing, the referee submits a report to the parties. The school Board of Education then decides whether to accept or reject the referee’s report. A teacher who is affected by a school Board’s acceptance or rejection of a referee report then has the right to appeal to the Court of Common Pleas by filing a complaint against the school Board.
Thus, current Ohio law affords adequate protection to Ohio teachers against arbitrary discharge and contract termination. While the forces of the far right will continue to seek to modify these protections in order to erode the special status enjoyed by teachers, so far, those efforts have been unsuccessful. In the interim, teachers should be aware of their statutory rights and readily invoke them for their protection.