Last week, a Los Angeles County judge ruled that the state laws on teacher tenure and seniority were unconstitutional. However, he suspended any enforcement to provide for the expected appeal of his decision (Vergara v. State of California).
Judge Rolf M. Treu found that the statutes on granting teachers tenure after two years, the dismissal process for ineffective teachers, and the layoff process of last-hired, first-fired were unconstitutional.
“Plaintiffs have proven, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the challenged statutes impose a real and appreciable impact on [a] student’s fundamental right to equality of education and that they impose a disproportionate burden to the poor and minority students,” Treu concluded.
“The present system, simply put, needs to change,” Hemet Unified School District Superintendent Dr. Barry Kayrell said in an email. “The majority of teachers are hard-working, dedicated individuals. It’s the inability to remove the bottom 10 percent that are not performing up to standards that has been prohibitive due to the tenure restraints. The present system forces administrators to make a tenure decision about 18 months into a new teacher’s career. That simply is not enough time.
“Secondly, the process to remove a tenured teacher is so cumbersome and expensive that it becomes almost impossible to effectuate a change,” he continued. “I truly believe in due process, and there has to exist a system to better evaluate and protect the rights of individuals.
“The state Legislature will be taxed with drafting language that will, hopefully, modernize the process and ensure quality education for all of our students statewide,” Kayrell concluded.
Robert Hudson, president of the Hemet Teachers Association, was not available for comment about these issues.
The case was filed two years ago and has gone through several attempts to dismiss it before evidence began to be presented this winter. “The evidence is compelling. Indeed, it shocks the conscience,” Treu concluded.
Already, the California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers have announced their intentions to appeal the decision. In a statement, the two teachers’ groups said, “California’s educators are disappointed by the judge’s decision in the Vergara v. State of California lawsuit as it hurts students and educators. From the beginning, this lawsuit has highlighted the wrong problems, proposed the wrong solutions and followed the wrong process.”
“Like the lawsuit itself, today’s ruling is deeply flawed,” said CTA President Dean E. Vogel in the press release. “This lawsuit has nothing to do with what’s best for kids, but was manufactured by a Silicon Valley millionaire and a corporate PR firm to undermine the teaching profession and push their agenda on our schools.”
In a press statement following the release of Treu’s decision, state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson said, “All children deserve great teachers. Attracting, training and nurturing talented and dedicated educators are among the most important tasks facing every school district, tasks that require the right mix of tools, resources and expertise. Today’s ruling may inadvertently make this critical work even more challenging than it already is … Teachers are not the problem in our schools, they are the solution.”