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At closing schools, tenured Shelby County teachers sue district to keep jobs

M-SCEA President Keith Williams voices opposition to school closures earlier this year during a board meeting.
M-SCEA President Keith Williams voices opposition to school closures earlier this year during a board meeting.
Tajuana Cheshier/Chalkbeat TN

Five Shelby County School tenured teachers filed a lawsuit against the district last week arguing they have a right to a job this fall. The teachers all work at one of the nine schools Shelby County closed this spring.

They want a hearing to request the superintendent find positions for tenured teachers at the closing schools instead of requiring them to search for new positions within the district and interview with principals.

The Memphis-Shelby County Education Association is also a plaintiff in the lawsuit. The association claims asking tenured teachers to search for positions and interview with a principal is in violation of state law. The teachers claim they should be placed in schools before non-tenured and Teach for America candidates.

“Every tenured teacher has a right to a position and placement within the district,” said Ken Foster, who is the executive director of the Memphis-Shelby County Education Association.

Shelby County Schools officials declined to comment on the lawsuit.

The 50-page lawsuit was filed in Shelby County Chancery Court on May 19. A court date in the case has not yet been scheduled, according to court records. The lawsuit was filed against the Shelby County Board of Education and Superintendent Dorsey Hopson II.

Earlier this year, the district closed the largest number of schools in its recent history due to low academic performance, under-enrollment and budget cuts. Once the school board approved the list of schools set to be closed on Feb. 25, a dispute began to brew between the teachers’ association and Hopson’s administration about what would happen to the tenured teachers if they did not have a position by June 30.

With the school closures and demerging of the Shelby County Schools into six municipalities in the suburbs, the districts are all vying to retain and attract the highest-performing, results-driven teachers accustomed to working in struggling academic environments.

In March, Hopson said if a teacher who had been working at a closing school had not secured a position elsewhere in the district by July 1, he or she would be placed on a preferred list.

“There won’t be any forced placements and no ‘rubber rooms,'” Hopson said, referring to the practice of holding onto employees without placing them in a position while they still maintain their benefits and are paid a regular salary.

Since the announcement of the school closures, the district has offered teachers who lost their jobs the opportunity to meet with principals looking to fill positions and encouraged them to regularly search their job postings.

Teachers listed as plaintiffs in the lawsuit are Kyle Kuusisto and Terence Pointer, who were employed at Westhaven Elementary; Sandra Selmon, a teacher at Gordon Elementary; Lamarcus Calvin, a teacher at Lanier Middle and Peggy Misenhelter, a teacher at Corry Middle School. Other schools where tenured teachers could be affected this summer include Graves Elementary, Klondike Elementary, Riverview Elementary, Shannon Elementary and Vance Middle schools.

Contact Tajuana Cheshier at tcheshier@chalkbeat.org and (901) 730-4013.

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