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Calif. court overturns LAUSD's 'last hired, first fired' exemption

The California 2nd District Court of Appeal has invalidated LAUSD's 'last hired, first fired' exemption at 45 schools.
The California 2nd District Court of Appeal has invalidated LAUSD's 'last hired, first fired' exemption at 45 schools.

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A major class-action settlement that gives LAUSD teachers layoff protection at several dozen schools in high-poverty areas has been invalidated by the California 2nd District Court of Appeal.

The 2 to 1 decision, with Associate Justice Kathryn Doi Todd dissenting and Associate Justice Judith Ashmann-Gerst and Associate Justice Victoria M. Chavez concurring, focuses on the technical aspects of Reed vs. United Teachers Los Angeles. The justices agreed that the teachers' union has a right to a trial where the merits of its case can be examined more fully.

Reed vs. California was filed in February 2010 and essentially argued that low-performing schools in high-poverty areas -- already difficult to staff -- were so unfairly impacted by teacher layoffs that it compromised the constitutional rights of students to be educated.

Because many of the teachers in lower-income schools have less experience, they're often the first to be targeted in layoffs, especially during the recent tough budget years.

A settlement reached in October 2010 granted 45 L.A. Unified "Reed" schools' teachers layoff protections. But that was challenged by United Teachers Los Angeles, which argued that layoffs should be according to seniority per state law. The union, which was a party in the litigation but not in the settlement, also argued that it had not had the opportunity to sufficiently argue its case in the settlement approval hearing.

L.A. Unified Superintendent John Deasy said he was pleased that the court left the substance of the Reed settlement intact.

"The most important issue is that the protections for the children remain in place," Deasy said. "We are weighing and considering our next opportunities, which very well may include an appeal to the state Supreme Court."

Deasy said he will ask the school board to consider seeking a review of the decision by the California Supreme Court at the next board meeting.

The ACLU of Southern California, Public Counsel and the law firm Morrison & Foerster represented the schoolchildren in the case and plan to seek review by the California Supreme Court, said David Sapp, a staff attorney for the ACLU of Southern California.

The settlement will remain in place until the state Supreme Court takes action on the request. If it denies the request, the Court of Appeal's decision will become final and the case will go to trial. If the state Supreme Court decides to hear the case, then it will remain in effect until the court issues its opinion.

"The majority opinion turns entirely on procedural issues and did not address the trial court’s findings that the constitutional rights of LAUSD’s students would be violated without judicial intervention," Sapp said.

In a statement released late Friday, UTLA President Warren Fletcher said the union is pleased with the decision. He called the Reed settlement a "failed experiment that has done little or nothing to improve student learning." He said allowing certain schools to be skipped instead "caused widespread teacher displacement and the severe disruption of the education program" on a much larger scale.

"From the beginning, the solutions that were proposed by the petitioners missed the point about what it takes to stabilize struggling inner-city schools," Fletcher said. "The voice of teachers, through their union, was silenced in the writing of the settlement. As a result, what could have been an important discussion on how to help our schools of greatest need was preempted."

He said UTLA was prepared to discuss how best to bring stability to the district's schools.

But Lisa Alva Wood, a teacher at Roosevelt High School, has followed the case closely and filed an amicus brief in the case along with several dozen other UTLA members and teachers. She called the ruling a "shame."

Wood said she was glad that school staffs would remain stable for Tuesday's early start of the year. But she also said that the decision "means that now more than ever, UTLA and LAUSD must come to an agreement on a feasible teacher evaluation system."

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said in a statement that he was "disappointed" by the decision and supported an appeal.

"We plan to appeal immediately and continue the fight to protect staff and students in our most economically disadvantaged schools from disproportionate layoffs," Villaraigosa said.

This story has been updated.

Tami Abdollah can be reached via email and on Twitter (@latams).