On October 25, 2016, the Maryland State Board of Education issued its decision in Steven O’Connell v. Baltimore City Board of School Commissioners, Opinion No. 16-46.
Steven O’Connell is a teacher who began working for Baltimore City Public Schools (“BCPSS”) in August 2010, under a regular teacher contract. He earned tenure in 2013. He had an Advanced Professional Certificate (“APC”) that was valid from July 1, 2010 to June 30, 2015. Submission to the BCPSS Certification Office of transcripts showing 6 Reading credits, as well as an Individual Development Plan (“IDP”) and satisfactory annual evaluations were necessary for renewal of the APC. Mr. O’Connell timely submitted to the Certification Office all documentation by April 17, 2015. In late May 2015, the Certification Office notified Mr. O’Connell that he needed 3 more Reading credits. He took an additional 3 credit Reading course and submitted the transcript to the Certification Office on June 29, 2015, one day before his certification was due to lapse. On July 21, 2015, the Certification Office notified Mr. O’Connell that it had rejected his request to renew his APC because he failed to submit 6 Reading credits and a page from his IDP was missing. On July 31, 2015, Mr. O’Connell resubmitted his renewal request.
On November 15, 2015, the Certification Office sent Mr. O’Connell an email informing him that his certification lapsed on June 30, 2015 because he had not submitted sufficient documentation required for renewal, that his contract with BCPSS had expired, and that he had lost tenure. He was told to sign a provisional contract, and that if he did not do so he would not be able to continue employment with BCPSS. Significantly, the Certification Office did not notify Mr. O’Connell that this was a final decision which must be appealed within 30 days. Mr. O’Connell subsequently sought the assistance of the BTU and a Section 4-205(c) appeal was filed on his behalf on April 8, 2016. The appeal was denied by a Hearing Examiner and by the City Board of School Commissioners on the basis of timeliness.
The BTU assigned Mr. O’Connell’s appeal to its attorneys to an appeal with the Maryland State Board of Education (“MSBE”). The Union was successful in convincing the MSBE to reverse the decision of the Baltimore City Board of School Commissioners. MSBE determined that the appeal was not untimely because the CEO violated Baltimore City Board of School Commissioner Policy BLA which requires that the CEO or designee give written notice of a final decision and appeal rights. The November 2015 email to Mr. O’Connell did not advise him of his appeals rights.
Second, the record showed that on June 29, 2015, Mr. O’Connell submitted all documentation necessary for renewal of his APC the day before the APC was due to expire.
The MSBE ordered the Maryland State Department of Education to issue Mr. O’Connell an APC with a validity period beginning on July 1, 2015. It further ordered BCPSS to rescind its decision to terminate Mr. O’Connell’s regular teacher contract. As a result, Mr. O’Connell’s tenure was reinstated, with no lapse.
This decision is important for two reasons. First, it upholds the principle that school districts, like other administrative agencies, must scrupulously follow their own rules when important employee rights (tenure and certificate renewal) are at stake. Second, it ensures that Mr. O’Connell will remain employed under a regular teacher contract, with tenure.