Does the Right of Teacher Placement Cover Non-Curricular Assignments?
Michigan’s Court of Appeals issued an unpublished per curiam decision holding that a school district employer’s absolute right to “teacher placement and assignment” does not always extend to grievances about non-curricular assignments. The Professional Personnel of Van Dyke v. Van Dyke Public Schools, Case No. 359115, September 15, 2022. While the Court’s decision was unpublished and, therefore, not precedent setting; public schools may wish to consider its implications moving forward.
The case arose, as many do, from a decrease in student enrollment. This decline made it impossible for the school district to fill the schedules of 1.0 FTE elementary enrichment teachers, such as art, music, and physical education teachers. So, the school district rounded out their schedules by assigning lunchroom supervision duties. The union issued a demand to bargain. The school district refused to “bargain,” maintaining the position its actions were teacher placement and assignment decisions and, therefore, prohibited subjects of bargaining. Nevertheless, the school district and the union met informally, but unsuccessfully, to informally “discuss” the issue. The union filed a grievance, to which the school district responded with an unfair labor practice charge (ULP) alleging the union violated Michigan’s Public Employment Relations Act (PERA) by insisting on arbitration over an issue that was a prohibited subject of bargaining. The Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) and the Michigan Employment Relations Commission (MERC) ruled against the school district.
The Court noted the union did not really argue that non-curricular assignments were not teacher placement decisions, per se. Rather, the union argued the school district, when it made these assignments, did not follow the provision of the collective bargaining agreement that covered extra-duty compensation for teachers assigned to lunchroom supervision duty. The union also filed the grievance in good faith. The Court further noted the limited scope of its review of MERC decisions and affirmed MERC’s holding the union had not committed a ULP by filing the grievance.
School districts may draw three lessons from the Van Dyke decision. First, teacher assignment to non-curricular positions is probably a prohibited subject of bargaining. Second, school districts should review how decisions to transfer teachers to or from non-curricular assignments affect other terms and conditions of employment covered by the collective bargaining agreement. Third, school districts should consider revising provisions in collective bargaining agreements that may limit the school district’s ability to transfer and assignment teachers to and among non-curricular positions.