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UPDATE: Appeals court ruling in Laurel County tenure case could have statewide impact

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Appeals court sides with teacher, orders review by Laurel judge

UPDATE POSTED 5 P.M. OCT. 31, 2021

LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. (WTVQ) – The state Court of Appeals has ruled in favor of a Laurel County teacher and ordered the Laurel County Circuit Court to reconsider an April 2020 decision that could impact teacher tenure across the state.

In a ruling last week, the appeals court said Laurel County Circuit Judge Gregory Lay applied the wrong law when he considered a tenure dispute between teacher Roger Smith and the Laurel County Board of Education. Lay had sided with the school district in his April 15, 2020 ruling.

Smith appealed, resulting in last week’s ruling (click here to read SMITH CASE IN LAUREL COUNTY 2021-2020-ca-0625-mr).

The case marks the first time since 1983 tenure and portability have been addressed for teachers.

No date for the Laurel County case review has been set.

ORIGINAL STORY POSTED JUNE 20, 2020

LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. (WTVQ) – Does one day really make a difference or does 20 years of experience and previous contracts matter more? And where do state rules fit into it all?

Those are the questions in a legal debate that started in Laurel County and now is in the state Court of Appeals. The outcome could impact current and future teachers and school district contracts across the state when it comes to tenure.

Tenure translates in job security and pay for teachers.

Roger Smith, who taught Spanish at South Laurel High School for two years, is appealing a Laurel County Circuit judge’s decision that sided with the school board in its decision to not renew his contract.

The Sentinel-Echo newspaper in London, Ky., first reported the ruling and the appeal.

According to the Sentinel-Echo and court documents provided to WTVQ ABC-36 News, Smith  spent 16 years in the Lincoln County school system before jumping to Fayette County, then Mercer County, then Bourbon County and Clark County before joining Laurel County in 2017 under probationary contract which was renewed for the 2018-19 year as tenured status.

In May 2019, the Laurel County Board didn’t renew the contract, saying he let his continuing service under Kentucky rules lapse. Smith appealed to the state Department of Education, which ordered the district to reinstate Smith, according to a court summary.

The school board took the case to Laurel County Circuit Court, where Judge Greg Lay sided April 15 with the school district.

Lay ruled Smith worked only 139 days in Mercer County during the 2013-14 school year, one short of what state rules required.

In his ruling, Lay said it is “undisputed” teachers must work six hours a day for 140 days to count as a year of teaching, according to the court record.

The Sentinel-Echo reported Smith’s attorney Mary Ann Miranda, of Lexington, recently appealed that decision to the state Court of Appeals.

The appeal cites a number of issues, but a key one is that under Kentucky rules, veteran teachers who have previously established tenure and get a job at another district within seven months, continue their tenure, even though the new district can require a one-year probationary contract.

Smith met that seven-month window, Miranda argues, thus meeting the state requirements for tenure, regardless of the 140-day rule, according to the appeal.

 





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