Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

'97-Day Rule' Takes a Toll on Teachers; This Year, 29 out of about 1,000 New Teachers Departed

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

'97-Day Rule' Takes a Toll on Teachers; This Year, 29 out of about 1,000 New Teachers Departed

Article excerpt

Byline: TIA MITCHELL

When school began last fall, nearly half of Highlands Middle School teachers were new.

"I always wanted to be a teacher," is something Principal Cathy Barnes remembers hearing more than once as she conducted interviews over the summer.

Most of the 26 newbies had no formal educator training. They were mostly midcareer professionals looking to make a change.

Barnes offered to give them a chance, and then set up training and coaching to help them succeed, she said. It took about a month for her to realize that not all of them would.

By the winter break, Barnes had let go four of those new teachers by invoking a state law that allows new teachers to be fired without giving a reason so long as it is done within the first half of the school year.

Known as the "97-day rule" because of the stated deadline, school administrators say it allows schools to quickly part ways with teachers that simply are not equipped for the job. However, union officials say the law makes it so easy to fire new teachers that principals do that rather than spend the time and money to mold them into better educators.

The district has approximately 9,000 teachers.

This year in Duval County, 29 out of the approximately 1,000 newly minted teachers were terminated under the 97-day rule or resigned in lieu of being terminated. Many other new teachers have also left the school system this year, though other reasons were cited for their departure. One was later rehired at another school.

After their 97-day probationary period expired on Jan. 9, those teachers received the security of knowing they cannot be fired midyear without due process. But they don't have to be reappointed to their post at the end of the school year.

After three years, Florida teachers receive tenure, meaning if during the summer break a principal decides not to invite them back to a school, they must be offered other options.

The 97-day rule was created in 1997, a time when Education Commissioner Frank Brogan was introducing sweeping education reform. At the time, a group of lawmakers wanted to eliminate teacher tenure laws. …

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