Educators, national experts and parents said bad Arizona teachers can remain in their classrooms because firing them is a difficult process steeped in union protections and Arizona state law.

Mar 5, 11:46 AM EST

Small number of teachers fired for classroom behavior in Tucson

TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) -- Seven teachers have been fired for classroom behavior in the Tucson Unified School District in the last five years.

One was placed on one year's probation and given a new teaching job in the district. Eleven others were fired for crimes unrelated to the job or because they didn't show up for work. The district employs more than 2,300 tenured teachers.

No teachers have been fired in Tucson's other large school districts - Sunnyside, Amphitheater and Marana - during the same period.

Some educators, national experts and parents said bad teachers can remain in their classrooms despite years of concerns because firing them is a difficult process steeped in union protections and state law. They said tenured teachers rarely are fired here or anywhere, even though inaction can be dangerous.

In Arizona, teachers are granted "continuing contracts" - or tenure - after three years in a district. To fire them, district officials must prove the teachers engaged in unprofessional conduct that was detrimental to students. It's difficult to fire teachers for general incompetence, and teachers can appeal any dismissal.

Teachers unions say the protections are necessary to guard academic freedoms, grant teachers due process and protect them from false allegations.

Some district officials say the numbers give a false impression that bad teachers stick around. They said poor teachers are put on improvement plans - sometimes for several years - and often are given the option to resign before they are fired, which would make the termination numbers low.

"The unions like to paint a world in which every teacher is good, and if they are not good, it is because they are not getting the training and mentoring they need," said Terry M. Moe, a Stanford University political science professor who has studied public education for 20 years. "But there are some people who are just not good teachers and they should not be in the classroom."

Tucson Unified School District union president Rosalva Meza said Arizona's teacher protections aren't the problem - it's bad management.

Roger Pfeuffer, the district's superintendent, said principals may be reluctant to fire teachers because education is a "helping profession."

"This is a tough new area," he said. "We have spent a lot of time in the past three years with principals and coaching them on their role as instructional leaders."

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