Pass / Fail | So Cal education, LAUSD, the Cal States and the UCs

First student takes stand in trial over teacher protections

The Vergara v. California lawsuit challenges state teacher job protections as unconstitutional.
The Vergara v. California lawsuit challenges state teacher job protections as unconstitutional.
Adolfo Guzman-Lopez/KPCC

Listen to

Download this 0MB

The first of several student plaintiffs — who have sued California claiming teacher job protections robbed them of an adequate education — took the stand in a Los Angeles Courtroom Monday afternoon and described how a teacher denigrated him in fifth grade.

“She pulled me to the side and talked to me negatively and told me I wouldn't amount to anything in life,” 17 year-old Brandon DeBose told Superior Court Judge Rolf Treu, who will be ruling on the case.

Outside the courtroom, defense lawyer Jim Finberg said that teacher had been named teacher of the year in Alameda.

Dressed in a dark, pin-striped suit, turquoise colored dress shirt and tie, DeBose described his Oakland neighborhood as high crime and low income. He said his tenth grade teacher was incompetent.

Plaintiff’s lawyers argue DeBose had bad teachers because of job protections — such as permanent status after 18 months, a complicated dismissal process, and seniority-based layoffs that shield grossly ineffective teachers from firing.

DeBose’s testimony opened the third week of the trial. Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent John Deasy, Harvard economist Raj Chetty, and education officials already testified. The high-profile case is being financed by Students Matter - a nonprofit founded by Silicon Valley entrepreneur David F. Welch, a proponent of charter schools.

Testimony from other California students will continue this week. Two nationally known education researchers from Stanford University are also expected to take the stand before the trial wraps up. Both sides said testimony by the student plaintiffs is key in the trial.

“It’s critical,” said Marcellus McRae one of the lead plaintiff lawyers “there’s a consistent truth: that teachers matter, that their impact is very powerful, can be transformative in terms of a life of an individual student and that’s why equal educational opportunity is so important.”

Despite his negative experiences, DeBose managed to get an education.

Likewise, San Fernando Valley parent Jose Macias, the father of one of the plaintiffs in the case, told the judge Monday he was worried about the quality of his two daughters' teachers.

“I fear that they might get teachers who won’t teach them what they need to be taught,” he testified.

So in one instance he requested a different teacher for one of his children, among other things, to help them get a good education in public schools.

Finberg and other lawyers defending the state of California and representing the state’s top teachers unions, said this shows the system can work without striking down teacher job protections.