Court of Appeal Sets Clear Rule for Determining Service Credit Toward Permanent Status for University Interns

02.26.2021

On February 24, 2021, the Court of Appeal held that a university intern employed by a school district under Education Code section 44466 does not earn service credit towards permanent (i.e. tenured) status until the individual is reemployed (and re-contracted) under a regular credential by the school district that employed him or her as an intern.  (McGroarty v. Los Angeles Unified School District (Feb. 24, 2021, Los Angeles Sup. Ct. Case No. B306946) ___ Cal.App.5th ___.)  This holding confirms the manner in which many school districts have credited service of university interns under Education Code section 44466.

During the 2016-2017 school year, English Teacher Michael McGroarty worked for Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) as part of a university internship program.  In June 2017, LAUSD rehired McGroarty for the 2017-2018 school year under his university intern credential and through an intern contract.  In October 2017, McGroarty received his regular credential from the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing (after completing his internship coursework in late July 2017) and executed a probationary teaching contract with LAUSD in December 2017.  McGroarty completed the 2017-2018 school year and was again rehired for the 2018-2019 school year; however, he was notified in February 2019 that he would be released through non-reelection as a probationary employee.  McGroarty challenged his release in court, arguing that, while he began the 2017–2018 school year teaching under his university intern credential, he had completed his coursework prior to the commencement of the school year and obtained his regular credential in October 2017.  Per Education Code section 44466, McGroarty alleged that he acquired tenure as of the first day of the 2018–2019 school year, and therefore could be dismissed only for cause.  The trial court ruled against McGroarty, holding that LAUSD had properly released him as a probationary employee.  McGroarty appealed the trial court’s ruling.

The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s denial of McGroarty’s petition for writ of mandate under Code of Civil Procedure section 1085 to compel LAUSD to reinstate him.  The Court’s ruling interprets Education Code section 44466 to clarify under what circumstances an employee who has served as a university intern (as opposed to a district intern) acquires tenure.  

Section 44466 provides in full:

An intern shall not acquire tenure while serving on an internship credential. A person who, after completing a teaching internship program authorized pursuant to this article, is employed for at least one complete school year in a position requiring certification qualifications by the school district that employed the person as an intern during the immediately preceding school year and is reelected for the next succeeding school year to a position requiring certification qualifications shall, at the commencement of the succeeding school year, acquire tenure.

Generally, tenure is automatic unless a school district notifies a certificated probationary employee “on or before March 15” of the employee’s second year that the district is not reelecting the employee for the next year.  (Ed. Code, § 44929.21(b).)  Persons serving as district interns who complete a district internship program and are ultimately rehired for the following school year achieve permanent status at the commencement of that school year. Unlike district interns (under Ed. Code, § 44885.5, et seq.), however, Section 44466 does not specify how university interns are classified, but permits service as a university intern to count toward the two-year tenure requirement under Section 44929.21 if the teacher is rehired by the district after completing the university internship program.  

In McGroarty, the Court interpreted this requirement as follows: “an employee meets the two-year tenure requirement by working the last year of the internship followed by one complete post-internship year.”  (Emphasis added.)  Previous courts had not considered whether the start of “one complete school year” in a position requiring certification described in Section 44466 was triggered by the completion of internship program coursework, as McGroarty alleged, or upon another factor such as issuance of the regular credential, confirmation of the regular credential, or execution of a new contract.  McGroarty asserted that even though he did not execute a new contract with LAUSD until December 6, 2017, indicating he had a preliminary single subject credential, LAUSD should consider the entire 2017-2018 school year as “one complete school year in a position requiring certification qualifications” following his internship year, as outlined in Section 44466, because he had been in the same teaching position for the entire school year and had completed his internship program coursework in July 2017. 

The Court disagreed and instead opted for “a bright line between intern and non-intern status.”  In considering the ex-ante effects of McGroarty’s perspective, the Court reasoned that if completion of university coursework was the distinguishing line, it would be “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.”  On the other hand, registration of the credential with the district, or re-contracting under a regular credential, would put the district on notice that the employee had completed the internship program.  Accordingly, the Court opined:

The more reasonable interpretation of section 44466 is 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” reemploys the former intern under a regular credential.

In the central dispute of whether a “post-internship year” starts upon completion of university coursework or upon entrance into a new contract under a regular credential, the Court ruled in favor of LAUSD, finding 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.”  This decision sets “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.”

School districts now have clarification that a university intern is not effectively in the second probationary year until the district enters into a new contract with their university intern, thus, the intern must begin the school year serving under a regular credential to receive credit towards tenure.  The district then has until March 15 of that school year to notify them of non-reelection.

Please feel free to reach out to the Authors of this Alert or your regular AALRR counsel if you require assistance determining an employee’s proper classification, or have any questions relating to the Court’s recent decision.

This AALRR publication is intended for informational purposes only and should not be relied upon in reaching a conclusion in a particular area of law. Applicability of the legal principles discussed may differ substantially in individual situations. Receipt of this or any other AALRR publication does not create an attorney-client relationship. The Firm is not responsible for inadvertent errors that may occur in the publishing process. 

© 2021 Atkinson, Andelson, Loya, Ruud & Romo

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