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Vergara v. State of California

 

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 filed today not only outlines the numerous legal errors in the ruling, but clearly shows that the laws in question provide great benefit to California students.

The brief 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.

“This suit was never about helping students,” said CTA President Dean E. Vogel. “As educators we believe every student has the right to a caring, qualified and committed teacher and that is why we are appealing the judge’s misguided decision. He completely ignored all evidence demonstrating the laws challenged in this case help ensure students have quality and caring teachers in their classrooms, and did not consider the impact of a severe lack of funding and growth in poverty which are some of the most important factors impacting student achievement. Instead, he based his decision on unfounded arguments made by corporate reformers seeking to impose their political agendas on students and educators. Where are these people when it’s time to support adequate funding for our students, peer assistance and review programs for struggling teachers, and lower class sizes that ensure our students get the one-on-one attention they need to succeed? That’s what truly helps our students.”

During two months of trial, the plaintiffs and their expensive attorneys failed to produce a single student who had ever been harmed by these laws, while teachers, principals, school board members, superintendents, and nationally recognized policy experts offered dozens of examples of how these laws have helped and continue to help millions of California students.

CFT President Joshua Pechthalt said, “Wealthy anti-union advocates like David Welch, the funder of this suit, are obscuring the real problems of public education, which are best addressed by restoring funding to programs that ensure student success. It is not coincidental that the law firm he retained is one of corporate America’s leading anti-worker, anti-union firms. Public education has a crisis of retention for experienced and new teachers alike. We already lose fifty percent of new teachers before their fifth year.  This is due to the difficulties of teaching in a severely underfunded system, and to the systematic attacks on teachers resulting in fewer young people enrolling in teacher education programs. These tough challenges are only compounded by this lawsuit. We need to support new teachers, help them to improve, and retain them. We need well-funded mentoring and teacher evaluation programs that help improve teacher practice and assist teachers that are struggling.  It’s a mistake to drive a reform agenda based on how educators are going to be fired. We can’t fire our way to excellence. We are confident that when a fair and conscientious judge takes into account the evidence that Judge Treu paid no attention to, we will prevail in this appeal.”

“The right to a fair dismissal process ensures that I can speak out on behalf of my students on issues like addressing school safety concerns or having adequate textbooks and supplies,” said Erin Rosselli, 15-year kindergarten teacher and 2015 Teacher of the Year from Orange County. “These laws ensure I won’t be fired or laid off for arbitrary reasons or in retribution for standing up for kids, and that school administrators do their jobs when it comes to observing and evaluating the work I do.”

The State of California has also appealed the Vergara decision. 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.

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

© 1999- California Teachers Association