As the end of the school year approaches, school officials must make important and timely personnel decisions about the continued employment of probationary teachers and follow the applicable timelines and procedures to nonrenew a probationary teacher’s contract. The COVID-19 crisis and the Governor’s Executive Orders did not suspend or extend the probationary teacher nonrenewal timelines. Acting outside of the required timelines and procedures will result in an unintended contract extension or a teacher inadvertently acquiring tenure.
Teachers hired on or after July 19, 2011, must serve an initial five-year probationary period and receive an “effective” or “highly effective” evaluation rating on their three most recent performance evaluations to acquire tenure. This five-year probationary period may be reduced to four years if a teacher has been rated “highly effective” on three consecutive annual year-end performance evaluations. If a teacher previously acquired tenure with another Michigan public school district, the probationary period is only two years, but a school board may act to place the teacher on continuing tenure earlier.
School officials must accurately compute the probationary period and apply the correct timelines for nonrenewal. Different timelines apply depending on a teacher’s hire date or if a lengthy leave of absence or layoff interrupts the probationary period. We recommend, as a best practice, that school officials create and maintain a chart that identifies each teacher’s hire date, status as a previously tenured teacher, annual performance evaluation ratings, and expected date for acquiring tenure.
The Teachers’ Tenure Act states that “before the end of each school year, the controlling board shall provide the probationary teacher with a definite written statement as to whether or not his or her work has been effective.” The Michigan Supreme Court has established June 30 as the uniform date for the end of the school year for purposes of the Tenure Act. But, for a teacher hired after the start of a school year, the teacher’s hire date (known as the “anniversary date”) defines the end of the probationary period which is measured in “full school years.”
For a probationary teacher who previously acquired tenure in another Michigan school district and is on the two-year probationary cycle, the teacher must receive a nonrenewal notice at least 60 days before the end of the applicable probationary period (i.e., May 1 or anniversary date). The board must authorize the nonrenewal, and the nonrenewal notice must come from the board. For all other probationary teachers, the teacher must receive the nonrenewal notice at least 15 days before the end of the school year (i.e., June 15 or anniversary date).
Administrators must allow sufficient time for the board to take action to nonrenew a probationary teacher’s contract and to provide written notice to that teacher in compliance with these deadlines. The common belief that a school board “grants” tenure to a probationary teacher is not correct. Rather, a probationary teacher automatically acquires tenure by operation of law upon the successful completion of the probationary period, unless the school board timely acts to nonrenew the contract or, under the unusual circumstances described above, shortens the probationary period.
Although nonrenewal is within the board’s discretion, school officials must comply with statutory procedures, timelines, and criteria to successfully nonrenew a probationary teacher. For example, administrators must ensure that probationary teachers are evaluated in compliance with Revised School Code Section 1249 and applicable board policy, that an IDP has been in place for each probationary teacher each year beginning at the start of the probationary period, that the probationary teacher received a mid-year review, and that the probationary teacher has been provided with multiple classroom observations consistent with the Tenure Act.
Although Executive Order 2020-35 temporarily suspended “strict compliance” with the Section 1249 teacher evaluation requirements for the 2019-2020 school year, it does not waive probationary teacher nonrenewal timelines or standards. Accordingly, we recommend that school officials complete evaluations for all probationary teachers for the 2019-2020 school year.