Durham News

School district won’t have to give teacher contracts for now

School board Vice Chairwoman Minnie Forte-Brown was sitting in her car, reading her email, when she learned Durham Public Schools and Guilford County would be exempt from a new law offering teachers $500 raises in exchange for their tenure.

“Yes!” she shouted.

Special Superior Court Judge Richard Doughton issued a preliminary injunction Wednesday in a lawsuit brought by the Guilford and Durham school boards, granting their request to put new state-mandated contracts on hold until the case is completed. Tharrington Smith attorney Ken Soo said when judges issue a preliminary injunction, it usually means the judge thinks that those suing have a good chance of winning the case.

The two boards argued the law outlining the process, passed last year by the General Assembly, is unconstitutional.

Doughton also ruled against the state’s motions to dismiss the lawsuit.

The law awards four-year contracts with annual $500 raises to the top 25 percent of teachers in their district. The teachers voluntarily give up their tenure, before tenure ends for all teachers in 2018.

For months teachers rallied, protested, signed letters and attended multiple school board meetings vowing not to take the contracts if offered.

“It’s exciting,” said Nicholas Graber-Grace, a social studies teacher at Hillside High School. “It’s an indication that there are real legal issues here in terms of conduct violation. It shows that the legislation has overreached and that teachers and parents are going to stand together when it comes to our kids.”

The school board expected to start the process of identifying the teachers who would receive the contracts next month. The preliminary injunction keeps at least the two school systems from having to implement the contracts.

Durham school board Chairwoman Heidi Carter and Forte-Brown have both said the the law, the Excellent Public Schools Act, is disrespectful, unconstitutional and could hurt public education.

“We took a chance,” Carter said. “And I think this outcome is in the best interest of our students.”

“I’ve been a school board member for 10 years, and I have never been apart of something that quite has felt this way,” she added.

It is unclear, however, how the order will affect other school districts. Doughton was expected to sign a written order on the injunction soon.