In a recent opinion, the Appellate Division of Superior Court held that a health and physical education teacher, who was out of work for almost three years due to a workplace injury, acquired tenure.

The teacher’s Workers’ Compensation and paid medical leave from 2006 through 2009, combined with his uninterrupted employment during the succeeding three academic years, established employment in the district for more than three academic years within a period of four academic years, satisfying the requirements for tenure. The court further held that the district had ample opportunity within the three most recent academic years to evaluate the teacher. Nothing in the record suggested that the teacher’s employment relationship with the district ceased while he was on medical leave. The court found that the teacher had achieved tenure before being terminated effective Sept. 1, 2012. The teacher was reinstated as a tenured teacher, retroactive to Sept. 1, 2012, with all of the salary, benefits and payments owed to him, less monies earned during the period.

The Appellate Division decision reversed the Commissioner of Education’s ruling that the teacher’s Workers’ Compensation and paid medical leave represented a break in employment which prevented the teacher from acquiring tenure.

In Kowalsky v. State-Operated School District of the City of Newark, the teacher began working in the school district on Sept. 1, 2005. On Nov. 28, 2005 he was severely beaten by a student, causing him to be out of work for the remainder of the 2005-2006 school year. He returned to work in October of the 2006-2007 school year, but was placed on medical leave in December for the remainder of the 2006-2007 school year and spent the 2007-2008 and 2008-2009 school years in therapy and rehabilitation, receiving temporary disability payments. He returned to work on Sept. 1, 2009 and worked for the full 2009-2010, 2010-2011 and 2011-2012 school years. On August 2, 2012 he was advised that his position with the district would be terminated due to his “non-tenured status coupled with budgetary restraints.”

While the court determined that the teacher acquired tenure before being terminated effective Sept. 1, 2012, it did not specify the actual date of tenure acquisition.