Saturday, November 10, 2012

Vergara v. California: LAWSUIT AGAINST TEACHER TENURE LAWS, SENIORITY RIGHTS ADVANCES + Plaintiff’s Press Release, Court Filings and Background

--Teresa Watanabe, LA Times/LA Now |

November 9, 2012 |  6:30 pm  ::  Supporters of a lawsuit to make it easier to remove ineffective teachers hailed a court ruling Friday that will allow them to proceed with efforts to overturn teacher tenure laws and seniority rights.

Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Rolf M. Treu rejected efforts to dismiss the lawsuit that seeks to overturn five state laws. They allow teachers to gain tenure after 18 months, require layoffs to be determined by seniority and force school districts to undergo a long and expensive process to dismiss incompetent instructors.  The parents are arguing that the laws violate their children’s constitutional right to an equal education.

“This is a significant first step for this lawsuit, which could change the face of education in California,” said Theodore J. Boutrous, an attorney representing eight parents in Los Angeles, Oakland and San Jose. “This is about making sure that everyone has a fair shot and equal opportunity to education.”

Jose Macias, one of the plaintiffs, said the lawsuit would help other children avoid what he said was a devastating experience for his daughter in an unidentified school in the Los Angeles Unified School District. Macias said his daughter, Julia, had lost her self-esteem and her desire to attend school after being told by her second-grade teacher that she was not good at math and needed a special education program. She is now a high-performing seventh-grader, he said.

“No child in the state of California deserves to go through that,” Macias said. “This lawsuit will help prevent situations like my daughter’s.”

In issuing his ruling Friday, Treu rejected arguments by the state attorney general’s office that the lawsuit should be dismissed because, among other things, there is no constitutional right to a quality education. Jonathan Rich, an attorney representing Gov. Jerry Brown, state Supt. of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson and the state education department, argued that court rulings have found only that the Constitution guarantees equal funding, not equally effective instructors.

The Alum Rock Union School District also sought dismissal of the lawsuit.

The Los Angeles and Oakland unified school districts did not seek to have the lawsuit thrown out.  L.A. Supt. John Deasy has expressed support for some of the lawsuit’s goals, including speeding the dismissal process and ending what he has called the “burdensome last-hired, first-fired rule.”

Jonathan Moss, a teacher in the Compton Unified School District who appeared at the court hearing Friday, expressed support for changing seniority-based layoff rules. The 27-year-old teacher said he had started an after-school fitness program, coached sports, brought students on weekend field trips and helped his fourth-graders achieve the highest test scores at their grade level  during three years at McNair Elementary School. Yet, he said, he got pink slips every year he was there.

Moss, now a Compton district substitute teacher,  said he is thinking of leaving teaching because of the frustration over constant layoffs.

"I pay my union dues but I’m not part of the union because I feel they’re protecting bad teachers,” he said.

Treu set the next court date for Feb. 22.


Press Release

Tentative Ruling Gives Groundbreaking Statewide Education Lawsuit The Go Ahead To Move Forward

November 9, 2012

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                                                                                           
NOVEMBER 9, 2012

Elizabeth Riel
310.560.4886 or

Tentative Ruling Gives Groundbreaking Statewide Education Lawsuit The Go Ahead To Move Forward

Final Ruling in Vergara v. California Expected Shortly

LOS ANGELES, CA — Today, the California Superior Court for Los Angeles County held its first hearing in Vergara v. California, an unprecedented lawsuit that seeks to strike down five statutes in the state’s Education Code that violate the fundamental constitutional right of all California students to an equal educational opportunity.  Yesterday, the court issued a tentative ruling in the case, overruling the demurrers of the State of California and Alum Rock Unified School District, and concluding that plaintiffs’ constitutional claims can move forward to trial.

Students Matter, a non-profit organization founded to advance the recruitment, support and retention of effective teachers, is the sole sponsor of the Vergara case.  The court is expected to issue its final ruling regarding Defendants’ demurrers shortly.

“This case is about the fundamental civil right of all California students to an equal and quality education, which is guaranteed by the equal protection provisions of the California Constitution,” said Plaintiffs’ lead co-counsel Theodore J. Boutrous, Jr.  “The California Constitution and the California Supreme Court have long acknowledged that our public education system is supposed to prepare schoolchildren to compete successfully in the economic marketplace and participate in the social, cultural, and political activity of our society.  Grossly ineffective and underperforming teachers fail to advance these goals. Yet because of outdated statutes and powerful special interest groups, these teachers are allowed to remain in California’s classrooms year after year causing grave harm to a portion of our students. It is striking that not one of the defendants in this case even pretends that these statutes serve the interests of students or enhance the quality of education.”

Plaintiffs in the Vergara case, nine California children and their parents, are seeking to strike down state statutes that create substantial and unjustifiable disparities in the educational opportunities provided to similarly situated California students.  These laws force school districts to offer permanent employment to nearly all new teachers without giving school districts the time needed to determine which teachers will be minimally effective, and then impede school districts from dismissing the worst performing teachers.  In addition, these laws force school districts to base retention decisions solely on seniority, very often resulting in the dismissal of effective teachers while leaving some of the very worst performing and grossly ineffective teachers in place (a practice known as “Last In First Out”).

Studies show that teachers have the greatest impact not only on students’ academic success, but also on students’ lifetime achievement.  Students taught by effective teachers are more likely to attend college, attend higher‐ranked colleges, earn higher salaries, reside in higher quality neighborhoods, save for retirement, and are less likely to have children during their teenage years.  Conversely, students who are assigned to even a single grossly ineffective teacher can suffer lasting negative consequences, remaining stuck below grade level for years.  And students taught by two or more grossly ineffective teachers in a row are unlikely ever to catch up to others at their grade level.  A recent study demonstrated that replacing a grossly ineffective teacher with even an average teacher would increase students’ cumulative lifetime income by a total of $1.4 million per classroom taught by that teacher.

“By failing to offer our students the best educational experience possible, and in fact, guaranteeing some students a sub-par education, we surrender the future of California as the nation’s leader in innovation and progress,” said Students Matter founder Dave Welch.  “How can we expect our students to deliver excellence when the system that educates them values ineffective teachers over the fundamental interests of the students they are meant to serve?”

Unlike many previous education lawsuits brought against the state, the Vergara case would affect all school districts in California.  California public schools currently rank 46th in the nation in fourth-grade reading and 47th in the nation in eighth-grade math.  On average, over one-third of all African American/Black students and over one-fourth of all Hispanic students in California do not graduate high school. California currently ranks in the bottom five among states in student performance.

The Vergara lawsuit has received support from Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent Dr. John Deasy, a named defendant in the case; Sacramento City Unified School District Superintendent Jonathan Raymond; Oakland Unified School District Superintendent Dr. Tony Smith, also a named defendant in the case; and Santa Clara County Unified School District Superintendent Xavier de la Torre.

“No parent wants to send their kid to school and wonder if he or she will finish the year a grade ahead or a grade behind,” said Jose Macias, father of Vergara plaintiff Julia Macias.  “No parent wants to have their kid assigned to a terrific teacher only to see that teacher laid off three weeks into the year and replaced by a teacher who has more experience but who everyone knows isn’t effective.”





Calif. Lawsuit Challenges Teacher Tenure, Layoff, Due-Process Statutes

By Stephen Sawchuk, EdWeek |

May 15, 2012 3:31 PM  ::  A handful of California parents have sued the state over five laws that allegedly concentrate poorly performing teachers in schools that primarily serve disadvantaged and minority students.

Filed today in the California superior court, the lawsuit takes aim at California rules that: require tenure be granted after only two years, before a teacher's performance has been well documented; create some dozen steps in the due-process procedures for dismissing teachers for poor performance, which the plaintiffs say allows that process to drag on for months or years; and mandate that seniority serve the major factor (barring a few exceptions) in determining which teachers are laid off during reductions-in-force.

The combination of these statutes, the filing reads, "inevitably presents a total and fatal conflict with the right to education guaranteed by the California Constitution because it forces an arbitrary subset of California students to be educated by grossly ineffective teachers who fail to provide them with the basic tools necessary to compete in the economic marketplace or participate in a democratic society."

Named in the lawsuit are the Los Angeles and Alum Rock Union school districts, Governor Jerry Brown, schools Superintendent Tom Torlakson, the California education department, and the California board of education. It seeks an injunction against the five statutes in question.

This is one in what appears to be an increasing number of lawsuits in the state that say students' educational civil rights are violated by its own education laws. Two years ago, plaintiffs won a settlement barring seniority-based layoffs in certain Los Angeles schools in a lawsuit that drew on a similar argument. More recently, another group of parents sued over the issue of teacher evaluations; it contends that the state has not followed a 40-year-old state law requiring that pupil progress be counted in teacher evaluations.

The lawsuit was sponsored by a California nonprofit group called Students Matter. Students Matter was advised by a committee including a bunch of other education advocacy groups—some controversial in the field—including Democrats for Education Reform, Parent Revolution, StudentsFirst, and the Education Trust-West. [emphasis added by 4LAKids]

A few other interesting things to note in this lawsuit. First, it leans heavily on value-added research, referencing economist Eric A. Hanushek's work (particularly this study) and a second, recent study that connected better teaching to higher lifetime earnings. It also cites a number of stories in the California press about the difficulty and expense of dismissing tenured teachers. Finally, litigators Theodore Olson and Theodore Boutrous are among the attorneys representing the plaintiffs. They're also the lead attorneys on an effort to overthrow California's controversial Proposition 8, which barred same-sex marriage in the state.

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