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Judge throws out Indiana teacher contract forms

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A judge has ruled that a state-pushed standard teacher contract form that would have allowed Indiana school districts to change or increase their hours without paying them more is illegal.

Marion County Judge Patrick McCarty permanently barred the Indiana Department of Education and state Superintendent Tony Bennett from using the standard forms, which all school districts would have been required to use. He said the department doesn't have any legal authority to unilaterally contradict existing contract law.

"The regular teacher's contract form drafted by Dr. Bennett is unconscionable in that it gives school corporations the authority to unilaterally modify the number of days and hours that a teacher must work, but it does not require the school corporation to pay for the additional labor or any other additional consideration," McCarty wrote in the nine-page ruling issued Sept. 11.

He said the contract form was unenforceable because it didn't set any term of employment. Establishing a minimum number of days wasn't enough, McCarty said. He also said the standard contract would have allowed districts to fire teachers at will, which violates Indiana law. He called the terms of the contract form "contradictory and vague."

A spokesman for the state education department said Tuesday that the purpose of the teacher contract form was to provide school districts with "flexibility."

"The intent of the form at issue in this case was to provide local school corporations flexibility to meet the needs of all their students," spokesman Adam Baker said. He added state education officials were considering whether to appeal the ruling.

Indiana State Teachers Association Vice President Teresa Meredith, who filed the suit along with the union, said that under the standard contract the state wanted to impose, school districts could have called teachers into work any time they desired — even if they were at another job or on vacation — and fired them if they didn't show up.

"The judge agreed that it's reasonable to know the amount of days you're required to work," Meredith said Tuesday. ISTA represents about 45,000 teachers across the state on contract issues.

The order also requires Bennett to notify all Indiana school districts not to use the new regular teacher's contract form and to forward a copy of the order to all districts as well.

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