Noncompliant Teacher Evaluation Supports Section 1248 Claim

The Michigan Court of Appeals recently held that teachers, both tenured and probationary, may bring a claim under Section 1248 of the Revised School Code in circuit court challenging a layoff-related decision based upon the district’s alleged failure to adopt and implement a performance evaluation system in com­pliance with Section 1249. Summer v Southfield Bd of Ed, Docket No. 320680 (June 2, 2015). This decision illustrates the importance of ensuring that teacher and administrator evaluations comply with Section 1249.

Meredith Summer, a teacher for Southfield Public Schools, was involved in an ongoing dispute with a colleague during the 2010-2011 school year. Summer filed an internal complaint against the colleague based on alleged harassment. At the beginning of the next school year, a school administrator allegedly told an­other school employee that she “would not have to worry about” Summer after that school year.

School administrators evaluated Summer during the 2011-2012 school year and determined that her performance was “minimally effective.” Administra-tors did not give Summer an Individual Development Plan (IDP), notice of her deficiency, or otherwise allow her an opportunity to improve her performance. Summer was subsequently laid off based on her evaluation.

Summer filed a complaint in Oakland County Circuit Court and alleged the school’s layoff decision under Section 1248 was improper because she did not receive an IDP as required under Section 1249, she did not receive any written feedback from her observa­tion, and school administrators retaliated against her for filing a complaint against a colleague and previ­ously serving as a union official. The school argued that Summer could not challenge the evaluation pro­cess by bringing a claim under Section 1248 and that the teacher’s only way to challenge the layoff decision would be to file a claim of appeal with the Tenure Commission.

The Court of Appeals disagreed and found that Summer could challenge her layoff under Section 1248 by alleging that the school failed to comply with Sec­tion 1249. The court explained that Section 1248 requires districts to base layoff and recall decisions, in part, on a teacher’s effectiveness as determined by an evaluation that complies with Section 1249. Section 1248 also provides that the “sole and exclusive rem­edy” for teachers to challenge a personnel decision is in circuit court but limits the potential remedy to rein­statement. Section 1249 establishes the criteria and process for conducting teacher and administrator performance evaluations.

The court found that because implementation of Section 1248 requires compliance with the perfor­mance evaluation requirements of Section 1249, a teacher may bring a claim challenging a layoff decision by raising an alleged violation of Section 1249. The court discussed the interplay between Sections 1248 and 1249 and the importance of a Section 1249 compliant performance evaluation observing that:

A plaintiff may not raise a claim under §1248 based on a violation of an evaluation system under §1249 unless he or she is spe­cifically alleging that a school district’s failure to comply with §1249 resulted in a performance evaluation that was not actu­ally based on his or her effectiveness and, most importantly, that a personnel decision was made based on that noncompliant performance evaluation.

The case was remanded back to the circuit court for further proceedings.

This decision stresses the importance of conducting teacher and administrator performance evaluations that strictly comply with Section 1249. Any performance evaluation that does not comply with Section 1249 could ultimately lead to a court overturning the layoff decision and reinstatement. We included a one page “roadmap” of the Section 1249 procedures and requirements in the April 30, 2015 edition of School Law Notes.

It is likely that this decision will serve as an avenue for unions and individual teachers to challenge layoff decisions through Section 1248 by emphasizing actual or perceived deficiencies in performance evalu­ations. School officials should conduct a thorough review of their performance evaluation tools and procedures to ensure compliance with Section 1249.