AMERICAN FORK — A handful of Utah County lawmakers and Alpine School District officials are studying the law on firing longtime teachers.

At issue: How much leeway do districts have in terminating teachers? And could any laws be changed to make it easier for districts to get rid of teachers who aren't making the grade?

The topic came up Friday during a monthly luncheon among about a dozen Utah legislators, members of Alpine's Board of Education and Alpine District administrators.

While those at the luncheon agreed the majority of teachers perform their jobs well, they shared stories of teachers who had burned out but continued to teach so they would remain eligible for retirement benefits.

"From an administrator's standpoint, if I'm trying to discipline a teacher, it's really hard to carry it through," said Rob Smith, the district's business administrator.

Teachers in Utah do not have tenure, unlike teachers in some other states.

But teachers have some protection under the Utah Orderly School Termination Procedures Act, first passed by Utah legislators in 1953, said Mark Mickelsen, communications director for the Utah Education Association.

Teachers with three or more years of service cannot be fired at-will, according to the act. School districts must follow a specific process when disciplining a teacher, including explaining misconduct in writing and guaranteeing hearings if a teacher appeals a termination decision.

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Utah Reps. John Dougall, R-American Fork, and Brad Daw, R-Orem, said they would consider changing the law if necessary.

School board member Donna Barnes, a former educator, cautioned against changing the law, which protects teachers from being fired if their principals do not like them or if an unhappy parent pressures the district.

"I see us approaching some dangerous territory — not that I want a system that hangs on to a poor anybody, from a custodian to a teacher to a bus driver," she said.

Lawmakers and education officials say they will continue studying the issue before making any proposals.


E-mail: lhancock@desnews.com