Port Huron teachers disappointed in court’s dismissal of evaluation case

Port Huron teachers expressed disappointment over the partial dismissal of a lawsuit they brought against Port Huron Area Schools that sought to remove unfair evaluations and rescind layoff decisions that were based on the flawed evaluation process the district used for the two most recent school years.

 “The judge’s decision to dismiss an important part of the case is upsetting,” said Cathy Murray, president of the 600-member Port Huron Education Association. “Even more disappointing is that the decision to dismiss was based on procedural grounds, as opposed to the substance of our argument, which was based on the inequality of the actual layoffs and evaluations.”

The court did allow part of the case to proceed if amended to name the teachers on layoff under one section of the school code.

The case was filed after the district administrators, a few weeks before the end of the school year and during a school day, called 60 teachers into their offices and informed them that they would not have a job next year. The vast majority of these teachers had taught in the Port Huron schools for more than 20 years and had numerous positive evaluations in their personnel files.

The district first notified teachers of their termination in late May, then rescinded that notice and later came forth with a new list. Port Huron administrators admitted that there were errors in the first set of evaluation scores.

Following the announcement of the second list of terminations, the Port Huron school board held a five-minute special meeting to unanimously approve the new list of 60 layoffs. More than 100 parents, teachers and concerned citizens packed that meeting and demanded to be heard. However, five of the school board members abruptly walked out of the meeting following the vote, as the crowd yelled, “Shame! Shame!”

“Port Huron teachers strongly support accountability and have no fear of evaluations that are done in a fair and consistent manner,” Murray said. “However, in implementing what was supposed to be a ‘pilot’ project, the district’s evaluation process was neither fair nor consistent. This resulted in highly subjective evaluations and criteria that varied widely from building to building and even within buildings.”

Even though the case was partially dismissed, Murray vowed not to give up the fight.

“In dismissing part of our suit, the judge even stated that the case will likely end up in a higher court,” she said. “Although we have not decided on a course of action yet, we do know one thing: The school board and administration is well aware that the evaluation system they used is flawed. Given that the careers of many outstanding teachers are at stake, instead of waiting for the judicial system to fix it, they should take responsibility and do the job themselves.”