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Appeals court vindicates fired Louisiana educators

Some 7,000 teachers and school employees who were wrongfully terminated in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina were vindicated Jan. 15 by a five-judge panel of the Louisiana 4th Circuit Court of Appeal.

The unanimous ruling says that the educators "were deprived of their constitutionally protected property right to be recalled to employment without the due process of law." The ruling means that all tenured employees who were fired after the storm must be paid two years' salary by the Orleans Parish School Board. Teachers who meet certain criteria must be paid an additional year's salary by the state of Louisiana, according to Larry Samuel, general counsel for the Louisiana Federation of Teachers and School Employees, who also serves on the plaintiffs' legal committee in the class action.

"We are very pleased with the ruling," Samuel says. "These employees suffered a dual tragedy, once when the levees broke and another when their livelihoods were taken from them."

"We hope this will mark a positive ending to one of the saddest stories to emerge from the 2005 disaster," says Steve Monaghan, president of the Louisiana Federation of Teachers and School Employees. "Teachers and school employees lost family members, their homes and property, and their jobs. Much cannot be replaced, but at least they will have the knowledge that their firing was illegal, and they will have some compensation for their loss."

Most of the educators were members of the United Teachers of New Orleans, an affiliate of the state federation, which was the collective bargaining agent for teachers and some school employees when Katrina struck.

The class action applies to all employees who were tenured on Aug. 29, 2005, including principals, teachers, paraprofessionals, central office administrators, secretaries, social workers and other employees who provided instructional, administrative, food, security, maintenance, transportation and other services.

Following the storm, efforts to reopen schools that had not suffered damage were thwarted. The state of Louisiana, acting under a radically expanded Recovery School District authority, seized control of New Orleans' schools. After that, the district terminated the vast majority of its employees.

"New Orleans had a corps of dedicated professionals who wanted nothing more than to teach children," Monaghan says. "The city had a handful of schools that could have been opened within weeks after Hurricane Katrina. They were kept shuttered, the state took over the schools, and all the teachers in the city were fired. This ruling paves the way for some semblance of justice for those educators."

The ruling is not necessarily final. The school board and the state have the right to ask the state Supreme Court to review the ruling. [Louisiana Federation of Teachers and School Employees]

January 22, 2014