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Teachers' Rights: Contracts

Contracts for School Teachers

The law of contracts applies to contracts between teachers and school districts. This law includes the concepts of offer, acceptance, mutual assent, and consideration. For a teacher to determine whether a contract exists, he or she should consult authority on the general law of contracts. This section focuses on contract laws specific to teaching and education.

Ratification of Contracts by School Districts

Even if a school official offers a teacher a job and the teacher accepts this offer, many state laws require that the school board ratify the contract before it becomes binding. Thus, even if a principal of a school district informs a prospective teacher that the teacher has been hired, the contract is not final until the school district accepts or ratifies the contract. The same is true if a school district fails to follow proper procedures when determining whether to ratify a contract.

Teacher's Handbook as a Contract

Some teachers have argued successfully that provisions in a teacher's handbook granted the teacher certain contractual rights. However, this is not common, as many employee handbooks include clauses stating that the handbook is not a contract. For a provision in a handbook to be legally binding, the teacher must demonstrate that the actions of the teacher and the school district were such that the elements for creating a contract were met.

Breach of Teacher Contract

Either a teacher or a school district can breach a contract. Whether a breach has occurred depends on the facts of the case and the terms of the contract. Breach of contract cases between teachers and school districts arise because a school district has terminated the employment of a teacher, even though the teacher has not violated any of the terms of the employment agreement. In several of these cases, a teacher has taken a leave of absence, which did not violate the employment agreement, and the school district terminated the teacher due to the leave of absence. Similarly, a teacher may breach a contract by resigning from the district before the end of the contract term (usually the end of the school year).

Remedies for Breach of Contract

The usual remedy for a breach of contract between a school district and a teacher is monetary damages. If a school district has breached a contract, the teacher will usually receive the amount the teacher would have received under the contract, less the amount the teacher receives (or could receive) by attaining alternative employment. Other damages, such as the cost to the teacher in finding other employment, may also be available. Non-monetary remedies, such as a court requiring a school district to rehire a teacher or to comply with contract terms, are available in some circumstances, though courts are usually hesitant to order such remedies. If a teacher breaches a contract, damages may be the cost to the school district for finding a replacement. Many contracts contain provisions prescribing the amount of damages a teacher must pay if he or she terminates employment before the end of the contract.

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