As the end of the school year approaches, school officials must follow applicable timelines and procedures if they wish to non-renew a probationary teacher’s contract, which apply notwithstanding the COVID-19 pandemic. Failing to comply with the required timelines and procedures may result in an unintended contract extension or a teacher acquiring tenure.
Typically, 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 is 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 two years, unless reduced in duration or waived to allow immediate tenure.
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 that school officials create and monitor 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 Tenure Act purposes. 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 public 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 probationary period (i.e., May 1 or 60 days before the 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 15 days before the anniversary date).
Administrators must allow sufficient time for the board to non-renew a probationary teacher’s contract and to provide written notice to that teacher within these timelines. The common belief that a
school board “grants” tenure to a probationary teacher is incorrect. 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 non-renew the contract.
Although nonrenewal is within the board’s discretion, school officials must comply with statutory procedures, timelines, and criteria to successfully non-renew a probationary teacher’s employment. For example, administrators must ensure that: (1) probationary teachers are evaluated in compliance with Revised School Code Section 1249 and applicable board policy, (2) an individual development plan has been in place for each probationary teacher each year beginning at the start of the probationary period, (3) the probationary teacher received a mid-year review, and (4) the probationary teacher has been provided with multiple classroom observations and ample opportunities to improve consistent with the Teachers’ Tenure Act.
We recommend that school officials promptly prepare the monitoring chart described above and follow the applicable timelines and procedures required to properly make these important personnel decisions.