On Thursday, the state 2nd District Court of Appeals unanimously overturned Judge Rolf M. Treu’s June 2014 decision in Vergara v. the State of California that the state laws on teacher tenure and seniority were unconstitutional.
The appeals court conceded that students may suffer from poorer educational opportunities, but that is because of administrative decisions, such as hiring ineffective teachers. The state laws protecting teachers and the “right” to employment are not at the root of different and biased educational opportunities.
Although the Appeals Court acknowledged that some principals transfer ineffective teachers to other schools, “often to low-income schools,” and considered this “troubling and should not be allowed to occur,” the fault is not the state statutes.
“Assuming that poor and minority students encounter more grossly ineffective teachers and that this impacts their constitutional right to ‘basic educational equality’ [citing a California Supreme decision], the constitutional infringement is the product of staffing decisions, not the challenged statutes,” the appeals court concluded.
“… the evidence presented at trial highlighted likely drawbacks to the current tenure, dismissal and layoff statutes, but it did not demonstrate a facial constitutional violation,” the court wrote in its opinion. “The evidence also revealed deplorable staffing decisions being made by some local administrators that have a deleterious impact on poor and minority students in California’s public schools.”
Since upholding Treu’s opinion would not guarantee better educational services, the appeals court reversed his decision.
“Any system will have some teachers who are not as effective as others,” the court wrote.
At the local school district, Hemet Unified, Trustee Vic Scavarda wrote in an email, “there’s no argument about dismissing incompetent teachers from the classroom. They should be dismissed if they arent doing the best they can for our kids. It’s also true that it is more complicated (but not impossible) to dismiss someone after the probationary period is over.”
Scavarda noted that the appeals court did not fault the statute’s language, but blamed administrators’ implementation of it. To overcome this problem, Scavarda said HUSD “emphasizes training, in-service and further education to help our teachers to be the best-prepared professionals possible, and it’s best to catch and fix problems early on.”
On Thursday after the appeals court decision was released, the California Teachers Association issued its response.
“This is a great day for educators and, more importantly, for students,” said CTA President Eric C. Heins. “Today’s ruling reversing Treu’s decision overwhelmingly underscores that the laws under attack have been good for public education and for kids, and that the plaintiffs failed to establish any violation of a student’s constitutional rights.”
And State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson reinforced his long-standing support of CTA with the following statement, “All of our students deserve great teachers. Teachers are not the problem in our schools — they are the answer to helping students succeed on the pathway to 21st century college and careers.”
During his re-election campaign in 2014, Torlakson publicly requested that California Attorney General Kamala Harris appeal the decision.
I am one of the teachers in the middle of- Vergara vs. State of California. Please see my blog anthonymize.net where you will find excerpts of my narrative Puddle Deep- describing my experiences as a teacher included in this trial. Thank you!