August 27, 2019

Determining service credit for the purpose of attaining tenure by educators serving as substitute employees


As this ruling by the Court of Appeals [Court] indicates, a substitute teacher may satisfy probationary service requirements using "Jarema credit"* attain tenure as §2509(1)(a) of the Education Law allows a teacher to apply service as a "regular substitute" towards completion of the probationary term required for tenure.

If a probationer substitutes for a teacher who is on leave for an indefinite period, is he or she a "regular substitute" and thus eligible for Jarema credit? Yes said the Court. Further, the teacher can be deemed to have earned this credit retroactively, even if the district explicitly described the conditions of employment differently in the hiring process.

In other words, one can become a "regular substitute" by virtue of one's service even if the job was described differently at is onset. The Court explained that the "ambiguous statutory term 'regular substitute' should be defined by the actual nature and continuity of the substitute service, not by the anticipated duration of the replaced teacher's absence."

Jarema credit may open the door to tenure by estoppel should a school board accepts the continued services of a teacher, but fail to take the action required by law to either grant or deny tenure prior to the expiration of the educator's probationary term..

In this instance, a Board of Cooperative Educational Services [BOCES] employed two types of substitute teachers: "per diem substitutes" and "regular substitutes."

Per diem teachers were employed for an indefinite period in order to cover the absences of regular teachers.  Per diem teachers were paid at a daily rate and had limited employment benefits.

In contrast, BOCES' "regular substitutes" were teachers who received a "special appointment for a fixed time." Regular substitutes were typically paid from a salary line temporarily available because the regular teacher was on a leave of absence. Regular substitutes also received a prorated annual salary with full benefits.

In adjudicating an educator's claim that she had attained tenure by estoppel the Court held that  "... as probationary periods are employed to determine if appointees are 'competent, efficient and satisfactory' for purposes of recommending tenure, there is no reason why [the educator's] service following her initial appointment should be considered anything less than time accrued towards reducing the [mandatory] probationary period the statute requires."

Thus opined the Court, tenure evaluations can be made regardless of the title under which the probationer serves. A school board may not undermine the policies behind the tenure system and artificially extend the probationary period by designating a position "acting" or "temporary," said the Court.

In addition, the Court rejected BOCES' argument that sanctioning a "surprise" acquisition of tenure by estoppel would both saddle school districts with the administrative burden of tracking the probationary term for teachers on a day-to-day basis and deny them the full statutory period in which to consider qualifications for tenure.

The Court said that such an argument assumes the wrong perspective on the tenure rules.

It said that its prior opinions has made clear that tenure rules should be read so as to discourage a board's use of technical obstacles and manipulable labels that can deprive a qualified teacher of tenure rights. Further, the distinction between "definite" and "indefinite" leaves does not in fact assure BOCES predictability or certainty since a "definite term" is not a requirement for regular substitute service. Indeed, even where a regular substitute is engaged for a "definite term" to replace a tenured teacher, the absence may end unexpectedly and the tenured teacher can insist upon early return to the encumbered position.

Noting that in this instance the educator had continuous service with BOCES, the Court ruled that she was entitled to Jarema credit that, when combined with her additional service with BOCES, entitled her to tenure.

* Typically referred to by the name of the bill's sponsor, then Member of the Assembly  Stephen J. Jarema, Education Law §2573[1][a], in pertinent part, provides that “Teachers and all other members of the teaching staff, authorized by section twenty-five hundred fifty-four of this article, shall be appointed by the board of education, upon the recommendation of the superintendent of schools, for a probationary period of three years, except that in the case of a teacher who has rendered satisfactory service as a regular substitute for a period of two years … the probationary period shall be limited to one year….”

The decision is posted on the Internet at:

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