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Vergara v. State of California

LATEST: Oral arguments for Vergara v. State of California set for February 25, 2016 in Los Angeles. 

Some of the nation’s top legal scholars, education policy experts, civil rights advocates, award-winning teachers, school board members and administrators filed five amici curiae, or “friend of the court,” briefs with the California Court of Appeal on September 16, 2015.  The filings shine a spotlight on the numerous and major flaws that would harm students in last year’s decision striking down important due process rights for California educators, as well as other laws governing hiring and layoffs of state educators. The briefs strongly criticize the Vergara ruling on both legal and policy grounds, urging the decision to be reversed. 

Back on May 1, 2015, CTA and the California Federation of Teachers, on behalf of their more than 400,000 members, filed opening briefs for a legal appeal 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 original notice of appeal says that Treu’s reversible errors are “too numerous to list.” The brief not only outlines the numerous legal errors in the ruling, but clearly shows that the laws in question provide great benefit to California students.

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. In early May, lawmakers in Sacramento worked 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 approved by the state Senate and Assembly and was signed by the governor. It went into effect January 1, 2015. The bill prioritizes, updates and streamlines the teacher discipline and dismissal process.

Every child deserves a chance to learn and no child succeeds alone.

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