By Frank Wells
In the wake of the Miramonte Elementary School sex abuse allegations, a trio of bills has been introduced that would take away rights from all California teachers. Under the guise of increased student safety, lawmakers and others are pushing legislation that will do nothing to make students safer than they are under current law, but will make teachers far more vulnerable to arbitrary or vindictive termination. This is nothing more than a diversion tactic to shift attention away from the fact that the administration at Los Angeles Unified School District didn’t follow the current law.
Investigation into what happened at Miramonte has revealed additional cases at other schools, all tied to failures of administrative oversight and follow-through, and to the labyrinthine bureaucracy that sometimes strangles LAUSD. Superintendent John Deasy initially promised swift action to make sure both state law and district policies regarding employees accused of abuse were followed, then abruptly shifted attention away from the systemic failures that had put students at risk. He disrupted the education of Miramonte students by replacing the entire staff (teachers and support personnel against whom no allegations had been made) and began calling for legislation making it “easier to fire teachers.”
Lawmakers, all too eager to join the superintendent in focusing on the wrong target, answered his call. But the three new bills by Senators Alex Padilla and Bob Huff and Assembly Members Steve Knight and Cameron Smyth would do nothing to make students safer. Under current dismissal law, school districts already have authority, and in fact are compelled, to immediately remove teachers facing a wide range of allegations from the classroom. A second fail-safe lies with the state’s Commission on Teacher Credentialing, which suspends or revokes credentials of teachers accused or convicted of crimes or serious misconduct. Dismissal under those circumstances remains relatively cut-and-dried: Teachers without a credential or who have been charged with a serious crime cannot teach.
The current system was designed to place student safety first, but also to protect teachers from unfair or capricious dismissals. And when existing law is followed, both are possible. Teachers are often the first to speak out on school safety issues or to defend reforms like smaller class sizes and adequate resources. Stripping them of basic rights will make it far too easy for districts to go after whistle-blowers on trumped-up charges that wouldn’t stand scrutiny or be allowed under the current law.
Instead of making students safer, these new bills take away teachers’ rights to address concerns or respond to allegations.
At press time: CTA is meeting with Senator Padilla to amend his bill.