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By Pippi Mayfield, Forum Communications Co., Published March 25 2010

Frazee teacher loses court fight over tenure

The case of teacher Steve Montplaisir and the Frazee-Vergas School District has come to an end.

The Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the district, giving it the right to cut Montplaisir before other staff members because he hadn’t worked a full year to gain back his tenure status.

Other special education teachers, including Superintendent Deron Stender’s wife, Jacqueline, had been there less time overall than Montplaisir, but he had left the district for a period of time.

At the School Board meeting Monday evening, Frazee-Vergas Board Chairwoman Dana Laine read the Court of Appeals ruling, and there was no discussion afterward.

According to the court document, “a teacher who resigns his continuing-contract position with a school district not in a city of the first class, and is later rehired in the same school district, must complete an additional one-year probationary period … before regaining eligibility for continuing-contract status.”

After not being renewed for another year, Montplaisir argued that the district made him work an extra year of probation when he already had his continuing-contract status in the Frazee-Vergas district.

Montplaisir worked for the district from 2000-07, and obtained tenure in 2004. He then resigned as a special education teacher in 2007, when he taught for a year in another district.

In 2008, Frazee-Vergas rehired him.

“The employment contract, signed on April 28, 2008, is silent on the issue of continuing-contract status,” court documents read.

One year later, the district chose not to renew his contract, stating he was a probationary teacher.

That’s when Montplaisir took the district to court.

Minnesota statute states that a teacher’s probationary period is the first three consecutive years in a single district, and “after completion thereof, the probationary period in each district in which the teacher is thereafter employed shall be one year.”

The district argued that the one-year probationary period meant that if he resigns and is rehired, the teacher must serve that one year of probation.

Montplaisir argued that the one-year probation rule only applies to districts other than the one in which the teacher had already completed the first three-year probation period.

“We conclude that the plain meaning of the phrase ‘each district in which the teacher is thereafter employed’ includes the district in which a teacher completed his three-year probationary period,” the court document stated.

Pippi Mayfield is a reporter at the Detroit Lakes (Minn.) Tribune, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.