By ANNIE YOUDERIAN . Courthouse News Service | http://bit.ly/OxC5PA
Monday, August 13, 2012Last Update: 11:48 AM PT :: (CN) - A California appeals court overturned a compromise between the Los Angeles Unified School District and students of schools that lost the most teachers during 2009 layoffs.
California's 2nd District Court of Appeals in Los Angeles said the school district needs to consider how the arrangement will affect the seniority rights of teachers' union members.
United Teachers Los Angeles had argued that the compromise violated its members' due-process rights, because the Superior Court judge approved the deal without ever ruling on the students' claims.
Facing a budget shortfall, the school district in 2009 began laying off temporary and probationary teachers.
The layoffs severely impacted three schools with a high number of new teachers. Those schools were forced to fill vacancies for the 2009-2010 year with substitute teachers.
Students at the three schools sued the district, claiming the layoffs denied them the constitutional right to equal educational opportunities.
After being temporarily barred from laying off teachers at those schools, the district and the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools struck a deal with students. In the event of layoffs, they agreed to skip teachers at "target schools" -- those deemed "likely to be negatively or disproportionately affected by teacher turnover" -- and to minimize the effect on non-target schools by ensuring that "no other school is impacted greater than the district average."
The plaintiffs' schools were slated to become target schools after the preliminary injunction expired on June 30, 2011.
The teachers' union sought to block the compromise, arguing that its own negotiations with the district require budget-related layoffs to be based on seniority. It claimed the arrangement with target schools could trample its members' seniority and due-process rights.
The settling parties argued that due process was satisfied by the fairness hearing, when the trial judge approved the compromise as fair, reasonable and adequate.
But the appellate court reversed the lower court's judgment, agreeing with the union that due process requires more than a fairness hearing.
"[A]ll parties should have the right to either voluntarily compromise or litigate," Justice Judith Ashmann-Gerst wrote for the majority.
Because the teachers' union never signed the compromise, the deal cannot be enforced against the union or its teachers, the court concluded.
In her dissent, Justice Kathryn Doi Todd pointed out that the union had "actively participated ... as an intervening defendant" and was given ample opportunity to be heard.
"The law does not require more," she wrote.