Former University Interns Must Serve A Complete Year Under A Regular Teaching Credential Before Acquiring Tenure

CATEGORY: Public Education Matters
CLIENT TYPE: Public Education
DATE: Apr 01, 2021

Michael McGroarty entered into a contract with the Los Angeles Unified School District to serve as a “University Intern teacher of English” for the 2016–2017 school year while he was completing university coursework to obtain a single subject teaching credential. McGroarty signed another contract with the District to serve as a “University Intern Certificated Employee of Secondary, English” (some capitalization omitted) for the 2017–2018 school year. McGroarty completed his university coursework just prior to the start of the 2017-2018 school year, and he informed his principal by email around the start of the school year. In early October 2017, McGroarty learned from the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing that certain information was missing from the credential application submitted by the university on his behalf. After resolving the issue, the CTC informed McGroarty in an e-mail dated October 12, 2017, that it issued his preliminary single subject teaching credential with an issuance date of August 10, 2017.

On October 12, 2017, McGroarty informed the District he obtained his preliminary credential and wanted to sign a new contract. McGroarty’s principal completed the required District paperwork in late November 2017. On December 6, 2017, McGroarty executed a new contract with the District as a “Probationary Certificated Employee of Secondary, English.” McGroarty completed the 2017–2018 school year, and the District rehired him for the 2018–2019 school year.

On February 6, 2019, the District informed McGroarty that it would not reelect him for the next school year.

McGroarty filed a petition for writ of mandate and injunction with the trial court ordering the District to reclassify him as a permanent employee and reinstate him, as well as damages for loss of pay and benefits, and attorney fees and costs. McGroarty argued he acquired tenure as of the first day of the 2018–2019 school year under Education Code Section 44466 and could be dismissed only for cause. Specifically, McGroarty alleged he satisfied the requirements of Section 44466 by completing his university internship program in July 2017, working the entire 2017–2018 school year, and being rehired for the 2018–2019 school year. The District argued McGroarty must complete a teaching internship program, and then serve a complete school year registered under a regular credential. Because McGroarty did not register his regular credential until December 2017, the District argued he did not satisfy the requirements and did not have tenure at the start of the 2018–2019 school year. The trial court agreed with the District. McGroarty appealed.

The central issue for the Court of Appeal to consider was under what circumstances an employee who served as a university intern acquired tenure. Generally, a certificated probationary employee of a school district is classified as permanent (i.e., acquires tenure) if, after having been employed for two complete successive school years in a position requiring certification qualifications, the district reelects them for the following year. (Education Code Section 44929.1.)

Education Code Section 44466 governs how and whether time employed as a university intern counts in reaching the consecutive two-year requirement under Section 44929.21. In short, this statute states university interns may count the last year of their internship towards the two-year tenure requirement under Section 44929.21. In other words, an employee meets the two-year tenure requirement by working the last year of the internship followed by one complete post-internship year.

, the Parties disputed whether the 2017–2018 school year constituted McGroarty’s post-internship year under Section 44466. Resolving that dispute requires determining what circumstances delineate the end of the internship and the beginning of the post-internship year for purposes of Section 44466.

The trial court interpreted Section 44466 to require McGroarty to serve a complete school year under a regular, non-intern credential. Under this interpretation, the post-internship year under Section 44466 does not begin until McGroarty ceased to serve under an intern credential and began service under a regular credential. In the trial court’s view, this required McGroarty to register his new credential with the District and enter into a new contract under that credential, which the trial court found he did not do until December 6, 2017, halfway through the 2017–2018 school year. McGroarty argued that reading Section 44466 to require registration of, or contracting under a regular credential to trigger the start of the post-internship year imposed an additional condition outside the plain language of the statute.

The Court of Appeal held that although McGroarty’s interpretation of Section 44466 was, grammatically speaking, a plausible construction of the language, it rejected this interpretation because it would lead to unreasonable and unfair consequences the Legislature could not have intended. In short, McGroarty’s interpretation of Section 44466 created a regime in which his proposed line between intern and non-intern—i.e., the completion of university coursework—was potentially invisible to the school district until sometime during or after the school year, thus depriving the district of adequate opportunity to evaluate the employee for tenure. The Court of Appeal rejected this interpretation.

Instead, the Court of Appeal found the more reasonable interpretation of Section 44466 was that a former intern “is employed … in a position requiring certification qualifications” following completion of an internship program only when “the school district that employed the person as an intern during the immediately preceding school year” reemployed the former intern under a regular credential. Under this reading, the phrase “is employed” included the school district’s affirmative act of hiring the former intern into a post-internship position, as opposed to McGroarty’s reading in which the intern simply continues employment under the existing internship contract. This interpretation sets a bright line between intern and non-intern status, a line of which both the employee and the school district are aware. It also gives the school district control over whether to continue the intern’s employment following completion of the internship. The Court of Appeal found this interpretation consistent with other provisions of the Education Code and previous court decisions concerning the tenure requirements for university interns.

Accordingly, the Court of Appeal upheld the trial court’s ruling that McGroarty did not acquire tenure at the commencement of the 2018–2019 school year. McGroarty did not enter into a contract under his regular credential until December 2017 and thus did not serve a complete post-internship school year under that credential.

McGroarty v. Los Angeles Unified Sch. Dist. (2021) 61 Cal.App 5th 258.

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