Angstadt v. Red Clay School District

Plaintiff, Frances V. Angstadt was a non-tenured teacher at the Red Clay School District.  Under  Delaware law, a teacher is automatically tenured if s/he is employed as a teacher in the State of Delaware for three years, two of which were in the employment of the currently employing Board of Education.  A failure to give a timely and proper notice of termination a teacher before s/he has the required years of service results in an award of tenure. The teacher is then subject to dismissal or non-renewal only for specific reasons set forth in the teacher tenure law.

Ms. Angstadt argued that because the district had failed to place e-mails and other documentation of performance related issues in her central personnel at the district office, documentation of her performance problems was not “properly placed” in the file as required by statute. Plaintiff argued, among other things, that a provision in the collective bargaining agreement requiring documentation to be kept in the central office file meant that the documentation was not “properly placed” in the teacher’s file.

We argued on behalf of the school district that the definition of the “personnel file” under the teacher tenure law is a functional one and does not require that documents to be kept in any specific location so long as the employee received notice of the district’s concerns.  Superior Court issued an opinion on September 11, 2009 concluding that the documentation was “properly placed” in the personnel file. As a result, the termination of the teacher was upheld.

The Angstadt  decision is important because building level administrators frequently fail to send performance appraisals and disciplinary documentation to the central district office. Such documentation can nevertheless be considered for purposes of determining whether a non-tenured teacher should be renewed.

The case is currently on appeal to the Delaware Supreme Court.  A decision is expected mid-2010.