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Vergara v. State of California

CTA and the California Federation of Teachers, on behalf of their more than 400,000 members, filed a notice of appeal today asking that Judge Rolf M. Treu’s ruling in Vergara v. State of California be reversed in its entirety. Stating that Judge Treu’s decision striking down five California Education Code provisions “is without support in law or fact,” the appeal says that Treu’s reversible errors are “too numerous to list.”

The notice of appeal notes that the court’s blanket ruling invalidating the five California Education Code provisions at issue is entirely baseless. The evidence at trial overwhelmingly showed that these statutes promote and support important public interests like attracting and retaining qualified teachers for California public schools while providing objective, fair, and transparent procedures in the event of economic layoffs. They also protect teachers from dismissal for arbitrary or improper reasons, and are not the cause of any constitutional harm to California students, including the nine plaintiffs. In fact, it was demonstrated that these very statutes are routinely and efficiently applied by school districts throughout the state. Ultimately, the interests of students, teachers, parents and the general public are directly harmed by the Superior Court’s sweeping statewide ruling.

“All along it’s been clear to us that this lawsuit is baseless, meritless, and masterminded by self-interested individuals with corporate education reform agendas that are veiled by a proclamation of student interest,” said CTA President Dean E. Vogel. “We work with these kids every day and know best what they need to succeed. So we stand up for them in our schools, our communities, in the legislature and in our nation’s capital even if it’s not the most popular stance. And the very statutes challenged here are the ones that allow us to fight for our students and their needs without reprisal of those in power.

“The people behind this suit have no education expertise and the case has been backed by a Who’s Who of corporate agenda school ‘reformers’ and school privatization advocates. Instead of focusing on the real issues facing our schools, they have chosen to ignore those actual problems and instead to scapegoat teachers. Fortunately, the evidence in this case is so strong we are confident of our case on appeal.”

Among key points in the appeal notice is the fact that none of the nine student plaintiffs in this case would be entitled to statewide injunctive relief even if they had standing and if their charges had merit, or even if they had sued the proper parties—the school districts responsible for implementing the challenged statutes.

"The Vergara ruling makes clear that Judge Treu failed to engage the evidence presented in court by education experts and school superintendents who testified that teacher rights are not impediments to well-run schools and districts,” said CFT President Joshua Pechthalt. “Instead he issued a blanket decision to scuttle these important statutes, absent the kind of compelling evidence that should be the standard for changing state law.

“He also failed to take into account the impact of underfunding, poverty, growing inequality, and lack of decent jobs in the communities surrounding our schools—in other words, the most important factors affecting student achievement. Taking the easy route of blaming teachers for the conditions they work in, this ruling doesn't address any of the real solutions to problems facing public education, solutions such as adequate funding, peer assistance and review programs for struggling teachers, and lower class sizes. We look forward to a higher court taking these factors into account, and understanding the importance of due process rights for teachers in supporting quality public education in California."

CFT and CTA follow Governor Jerry Brown in submitting an appeal, and it is expected that State Superintendent Tom Torlakson will soon do the same. Legal experts across the country have expressed strong skepticism at Judge Treu’s ruling, with many predicting it will be overturned.


BACKGROUND:

Vergara v. State of California is a meritless lawsuit brought by Students Matter, an organization created by Silicon Valley multimillionaire David Welch and a private public relations firm for the sole purpose of filing this suit. Students Matter is supported by Michelle Rhee and Students First, Parent Revolution Executive Director Ben Austin, Billionaire and school privatizer Eli Broad, former lawmaker Gloria Romero, and other corporate education reformers with an interest in privatizing public education and attacking teachers’ unions. The suit challenges California statutes governing due process in teacher dismissals, using experience as a criteria during school layoffs, and the two-year probationary period for teachers. The suit wrongly alleges those laws are unconstitutional and hurt students. The defendant in the suit is the State of California. CTA and the California Federation of Teachers (CFT) intervened in the case to ensure all stakeholders have input in educational policy decisions and to protect the rights of educators. 

Simply put, this lawsuit highlights the wrong problems, proposes the wrong solutions, and follows the wrong process. This is yet another attempt by the usual corporate special interests to undermine the teaching profession and push their agenda on California public schools and students. Circumventing the legislative process to strip teachers of their due process rights will not improve student learning, will make it harder to attract and retain quality teachers in our classrooms, and ignores all the research that shows experience is a key factor in effective teaching. This is a blatant effort to legislate from the bench, keeping parents and educators out of education policy decisions.  

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW:

  • From the beginning, this lawsuit has highlighted the wrong problems, proposed the wrong solutions, and followed the wrong process. This lawsuit was not about helping students, but yet another attempt by millionaires and corporate special interests to undermine the teaching profession and push their agenda on California public schools and students.
  • CTA, CFT and its education partners will appeal today’s disappointing decision, while we continue to proceed with providing all our students a quality education. There is nothing unconstitutional about these laws and the plaintiffs clearly failed to show harm to any student. Testimony and research actually showed that experience enhances teacher effectiveness and increases student productivity at all grade levels, and that all three of the issues in this case contribute to better outcomes for students.  
  • Circumventing the legislative process to strip teachers of their due process rights will not improve student learning, will make it harder to attract and retain quality teachers in our classrooms, and ignores all the research that shows experience is a key factor in effective teaching.
  • California’s probationary law gives a school administrator two years to determine if a teacher is effective or not. During those first two years a teacher can be fired for no reason at all. Prolonging the probationary period would not benefit students, and would have the unintended effect of keeping ineffective new teachers in classrooms longer.
  • California’s experience-based layoff system is fair, objective, and the most efficient way for school districts to deal with the unfortunate circumstance of layoffs due to budget cuts or declining enrollment. Current law already allows districts to consider student needs and other factors when issuing layoffs.  But switching to an “effectiveness”-based system based largely on student standardized test scores, as the plaintiffs advocated would turn what is now a fairly streamlined system into a logistical nightmare.
  • California’s due process in performance-based dismissal cases helps ensure teachers are not fired for speaking out on behalf of students, or for teaching subjects some find controversial. They allow teachers facing dismissal to present their side of a case, and to have their case heard by objective third parties.
  • The legislature is the place for policy decisions like this, not through court cases brought by phony front groups created by PR firms and millionaires. This week in Sacramento, lawmakers are working together to pass a bill that would streamline the dismissal process to keep students safe, while protecting the due process rights of educators. AB 215 was unanimously approved by the state Senate and is expected to be approved by the Assembly and signed by the governor. The bill prioritizes, updates and streamlines the teacher discipline and dismissal process.

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