California Charter School Teachers: Flexibility in the Classroom, Vulnerability as an Employee

Jennifer Hom Chen

Volume 67, Issue 6, 1733-68

Since the passage of the Charter Schools Act of 1992, charter schools have been hailed for achieving better results for students compared to traditional public schools in California. In particular, charter schools are touted for their ability to serve the needs of low-income students in urban areas. Proponents also assert that charter schools present teachers with the opportunity to work in a more flexible environment, where they allegedly enjoy greater flexibility and control over their instructional and curricular decisions, giving them the ability to innovate and experiment with new teaching pedagogy to meet the unique needs of their students. However, there is little discussion on the drawbacks that teachers face while teaching in this “increased flexibility” employment regime. Specifically, charter school teachers are deprived of statutory protections against arbitrary disciplinary decisions.

This Note explores various legal routes that charter school teachers may navigate to protect themselves from arbitrary disciplinary and termination decisions. In particular, this Note examines various statutory and constitutional sources of protection, at both the state and federal level, and concludes that California due process provides the most promising opportunity for attaining protection from arbitrary disciplinary decisions. However, several unresolved ambiguities within California due process jurisprudence undermine the prospect of its ability to effectively shield teachers from uninformed or erroneous disciplinary decisions.

This Note’s conclusion provides for an alternative legal framework that would better balance charter school teachers’ need to be respected and free from completely arbitrary disciplinary actions, with the charter schools’ need to flexibly and efficiently make staffing decisions. Indeed, charter schools must be able to swiftly remove teachers who cannot meet the needs of their students due to their incompetence, unprofessionalism, or other faults. But at the same time, as professional educators and individuals as invested in their students as their own careers, charter school teachers should not be subject to the unfettered whim of their administrators.

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