A Los Angeles Superior Court judge has ruled the deeply misguided Vergara vs. State of California lawsuit may proceed to trial, denying motions by CTA, the California Federation of Teachers (CFT) and the state of California for summary judgment. However, the judge said the decision to deny the request to dismiss the case in no way indicates the trial’s outcome.
CFT and CTA remain firmly committed to protecting learning and teaching environments, despite the ruling that puts on trial the professional rights of teachers.
The Vergara lawsuit attacks the Education Code provisions that grant permanent status to teachers, provide due process in teacher dismissal proceedings, and protect seniority as a component of the layoff process. The suit demands that the court declare each of these statutory protections unconstitutional.
The Vergara lawsuit was filed against the state of California and three school districts. As CTA does not write or administer the laws at issue in the suit, CTA was not originally a party. CTA and CFT chose to intervene jointly — to safeguard teacher job protections that benefit the educational system, certainly, but equally to protect a carefully crafted legislative scheme from manipulation by big-pocketed ideologues with no understanding of the realities of public education in this state.
“It’s disappointing because putting professional rights of teachers on trial hurts students,” says CTA President Dean E. Vogel of the ruling. “This most recent shenanigan by corporate special interests and billionaires to push their education agenda on California public schools is resulting in a waste of taxpayer dollars and time — time that should be spent focusing on providing a quality education to all students as the economy improves. CTA will continue to fight to ensure we have qualified and experienced teachers in the classrooms whose rights are respected as set forth by law, and not subject to arbitrary and capricious behavior or favoritism.”
The officially named plaintiffs in Vergara are nine California public school students. But the real driver of the suit appears to be a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, David Welch. Welch created the nonprofit Students Matter for the purpose of bankrolling this suit, and has hired a legal team at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, a law firm that counts Wal-Mart among its many corporate clients, to make his case.
Simply put, this lawsuit highlights the wrong problems, proposes the wrong solutions, and follows the wrong process. It threatens not only basic teacher employment protections, but the role and independence of the Legislature in regulating public education.
Educators are the first to say California can do more to help improve our schools. There are many challenges, including poverty, a lack of adequate funding and resources for education, and a lack of adequate support for teachers — who according to some reports are now leaving the profession in unprecedented numbers because of this lack of support. The plaintiffs are uninterested in these issues, however. Consistent with the “bad teacher” narrative of the corporate education “reform” movement, this lawsuit is based on the premise that all of the societal problems reflected in our education system could be solved just by eviscerating teachers’ rights.
As for administrators’ need to manage their workforce, which this lawsuit claims to champion, the fact is that the current legal system balances teacher protections with opportunities for administrators to discipline and discharge employees. The remedy sought in the suit, by contrast, would provide administrators unfettered discretion in employment decisions. In so doing, it would also remove all checks on — to borrow the plaintiffs’ language — “grossly ineffective” administration.
How to improve our education system, including the very laws the Vergara suit attacks, is something vigorously debated throughout our communities and in Sacramento. And CTA has supported numerous efforts to support lower-performing schools, changes to improve teacher evaluation, and efforts to streamline the dismissal process. Circumventing the legislative process, as this lawsuit seeks to do, will strip teachers of their due process rights and will not improve student learning. It will make it harder to attract and retain quality teachers in our classrooms, and it ignores all the research that shows experience is a key factor in effective teaching. This lawsuit further destabilizes the teaching profession, targeting the very rights that help keep teachers in the profession for the long haul.
Perhaps even more egregious than the Vergara legal claims is how David Welch and his law firm are selling their case to the public — as a lawsuit seeking justice on behalf of the disenfranchised. In September, for example, one of the Vergara plaintiffs’ lead attorneys invoked Dr. Martin Luther King in an editorial in the Huffington Post, and suggested that the lawsuit is the Brown v. Board of Education of our time.
Educator rights and due process protections have become favorite targets of those who seek to corporatize and privatize education as they want to distract from the real work that needs to be done to improve public education — work CTA has long been doing.
As the Vergara lawsuit proceeds, CTA’s voice — your voice — on these issues is more important than ever.
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