Business & Economy

Vergara trial: Calif. judge says state teacher protections unconstitutional (updated)

Julia Macias, one of nine plaintiffs in the Vergara v. California trial, welcomes a judge's ruling striking down teacher job protections.
Julia Macias, one of nine plaintiffs in the Vergara v. California trial, welcomes a judge's ruling striking down teacher job protections.
Adolfo Guzman-Lopez/KPCC

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California teacher protections are unconstitutional, according to a ruling by a Los Angeles Superior Court judge on Tuesday. The ruling found that California teacher tenure, firing and discipline procedures are unconstitutional because they violate children’s right to an adequate education.

Read the full decision


Update 2:03 p.m.: LA Schools' superintendent Deasy responds to ruling

Los Angeles Superintendent John Deasy says he will immediately begin working with state lawmakers and officials to correct California's teacher protection laws.

His comments come hours after an L.A. Superior Court judge today ruled several of those laws unconstitutional.

Judge Rolf Treu issued an injunction blocking tenure laws for public school teachers but also placed a stay on the ruling pending an appeal.

Deasy, who was a witness for those seeking to overturn the laws, says there's no reason to wait for that appeal.

"Every day administrators are spending thousands upon thousands and countless hours trying to dismiss ineffective teachers. That money should be spent on procuring new supplies, instituting new programs, improving teacher salaries, securing critical services for both the professionals and the students, and reducing class size."

Plaintiffs in the high-profile suit that took on powerful teachers' unions included nine students, who were hailing the court ruling on Tuesday.

Julia Macias is one of those students.

"Being a kid, sometimes it's easy to feel like your voice is not heard. Sometimes we are asked to stay quiet and let the adults figure things out.  Today I am glad I did not stay quiet. I am glad that with the support of my parents I was given the opportunity to fight for my rights in equal education," Macias said.

The California Teachers Association said it plans to file an appeal.

— KPCC staff

Update 1:16 p.m. Change needed but teachers will still have protections, says plaintiff's counsel

Though change is needed, teachers will still have protections no matter what, plaintiff's counsel Joshua Lipshutz told KPCC's "AirTalk." He's part of the legal team for Students Matter.

"Judge Treu has really thrown down the gauntlet and said, 'Look, this is a moral imperative, these teacher tenure laws are hurting students, and whoever is going to do something about it, they better get on that fast,'" said Lipshutz.

Lipshutz said that change can come either through the courts or the Legislature, but that change is needed now.

"Something has to be done right now because hundreds of thousands of students in California are being harmed every day and every year by these laws," Lipshutz said.

Teachers should still have protections, Lipshutz said, noting that all public employees are entitled to due process and some protections can't be taken away no matter what.

"The issue in this case was really the super duper due process protections that only teachers have," Lipshutz said. "When the protections go this far, the balance tips and you start hurting the very people who rely on those teachers: the students."

Lipshutz cited support in testimony during the trial from teachers on the plaintiff's side. He said that teacher tenure and the rule that new teachers are the first out is a deterrent to new teachers entering the profession.

"Lots of our most brilliant and enthusiastic young people who want to be teachers don't go into teaching because they know seniority rules under the current system," Lipshutz said. "In fact we had quite a few teachers who testified who were named teacher of the year and that very same year were laid off because they were the most junior member of the faculty. People don't want to enter a profession where they're not judged on their merit, and certainly not the kind of people that you'd want to be teachers."

Lipshutz said that while there are things administrators can do, it's not enough.

"It's true that Dr. Deasy has been able to terminate more grossly ineffective teachers than his predecessor, but when he was on the stand and his research official was on the stand, they explained that there are at least 350 teachers right now in Los Angeles that they know are grossly ineffective, that they cannot get rid of because it costs too much money and takes too much time. That system makes absolutely no sense for our students."

KPCC staff

Update 12:54 p.m. Union president accuses judge of favoring plaintiff's lawyers

Union representatives — who were not defendants in the case, but who successfully asked to intervene — accused the trial judge of favoring the plaintiff's lawyers during the proceedings.

“We are incredibly disappointed, but we are not surprised,” said California Federation of Teachers President Joshua Pechthalt.

He said that, during the trial, Judge Rolf Treu cut off lawyers defending the case. He also said Treu missed the larger point about what it takes to give a child a quality education.
“There are a number factors that shape what happens in a particular classroom in a school," Pechthalt said. "The quality of the teaching, of course is one of them."

But he said it's not the only factor. 

"Things like what resources the parents have, the economic conditions in that community, overcrowding in the classroom” also play a huge role,  he said. 

The CTA will appeal the decision.

Incoming United Teachers Los Angeles President Alex Caputo-Pearl said Treu's decision doesn’t reflect what he’s seen over the past two decades teaching in high-poverty schools in South L.A.
“It’s shocking to me that a judge is going to intervene in this way when the students that I’ve come across in my 22 years — the biggest barrier for them was never that their teacher had due process, or had a right to hearing, or had seniority," he said. "The biggest barriers for our kids are huge class sizes, no counselors, no librarians, a nurse one day a week.

"This is a shocking intervention on the part of a court that completely misses the point of the problems that are in schools right now,” he added.

Adolfo Guzman-Lopez

Update 12:45 p.m. Keeping teachers longer is beneficial to students, says teachers union VP

Numerous groups are against using test scores to evaluate teachers, California Federation of Teachers Vice President Gary Ravani told KPCC's "AirTalk." The organization joined the state's side in the Vergara v. California case.

"Let me just say not only are the unions against it," Ravani said, "but also the Educational Testing Service, California's testing vendor is against it; the nation's highest scientific body, the National Research Council is against it; just within the last week or so the American Statistical Society came out against it. And all of them have said that using test scores in a way that was pressed in the court case is actually going to have a negative effect."

Ravani cited No Child Left Behind, saying it's been in place for a decade and that its use of test scores to hold teachers and schools accountable has had a negative effect. He said that the current system of letting administrators evaluate teachers works without adding test scores on top of it.

"Administrators have the right within two years to dismiss teachers absolutely without cause and they have no due process rights whatsoever," Ravani said. "So it's up to administration to do an effective job of evaluating teachers in that time and making the judgment as to whether or not the teacher's effective or not. There's nothing to suggest that two years isn't  sufficient time to do that."

Keeping teachers around longer is beneficial to students, Ravani argued.

"There's a substantial body of evidence that says that the more time that teachers have in the classroom, the more effective they become and the better the chances are for kids to get a better educations, so actually protecting those seniority rights is much to the advantage of students," said Ravani.

KPCC staff

Update 12:23 p.m. Officials should take judge's decision as mandate to change laws now, says entrepreneur behind lawsuit

The Silicon Valley entrepreneur who bankrolled the successful fight against California teacher protections said he was “ecstatic” by the overwhelming win.
“It is an incredible day for the public education of the children of California — and I believe also the country,” said David Welch, founder of the tech firm Infinera, during a conference call Tuesday afternoon put on by his nonprofit Students Matter. He ignored a reporter’s question about what filing the case cost him.
Students Matter has stated its intention to push for similar changes in other states.
The group’s big message in the press conference was that legislators and policymakers should take the judge’s decision as a mandate to change laws now, rather than wait for appeals.
“We’ve been challenged now to find a better solution than what has been the status quo,” Welch said.

KPCC staff

Update 12:12 p.m. Education Secretary Arne Duncan: Vergara decision a 'mandate' to fix education system

The Vergara v. California decision finding state teacher protections unconstitutional is a "mandate" to fix "laws, practices and systems that fail to identify and support our best teachers and match them with our neediest students," U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in a statement Tuesday.

Duncan said that the decision presents the opportunity to build a new teaching framework, which gives students the opportunity to receive an equal education while giving teachers good careers. He also said that he hopes the decision quickly leads to changes in practice.

"My hope is that today’s decision moves from the courtroom toward a collaborative process in California that is fair, thoughtful, practical and swift," Duncan said.

Duncan said that they are working on the federal level to support that kind of discussion in states, as well as looking to address other problems, "including school funding, access to quality early childhood programs and school discipline."

Read the full statement below:

For students in California and every other state, equal opportunities for learning must include the equal opportunity to be taught by a great teacher. The students who brought this lawsuit are, unfortunately, just nine out of millions of young people in America who are disadvantaged by laws, practices and systems that fail to identify and support our best teachers and match them with our neediest students.

Today’s court decision is a mandate to fix these problems. Together, we must work to increase public confidence in public education. This decision presents an opportunity for a progressive state with a tradition of innovation to build a new framework for the teaching profession that protects students’ rights to equal educational opportunities while providing teachers the support, respect and rewarding careers they deserve.

My hope is that today’s decision moves from the courtroom toward a collaborative process in California that is fair, thoughtful, practical and swift. Every state, every school district needs to have that kind of conversation.

At the federal level, we are committed to encouraging and supporting that dialogue in partnership with states. At the same time, we all need to continue to address other inequities in education — including school funding, access to quality early childhood programs and school discipline.

Mike Roe

Update 11:54 a.m. Superintendent Deasy: California shouldn't wait to change teacher tenure laws

Los Angeles schools superintendent John Deasy, who testified on behalf of the plaintiffs, said Tuesday that California shouldn’t wait to change teacher job protection laws.
“Every day that these laws remain in effect represent another opportunity denied,” he said during a conference call put on by Students Matter, the nonprofit behind the lawsuit that successfully challenged those laws. “It’s unacceptable.”

He said he would reach out to Attorney General Kamala Harris to draw up new laws now.
Judge Rolf Treu’s ruling Tuesday morning — finding California teacher tenure, firing and discipline procedures are unconstitutional because they violate children’s right to an adequate education — is stayed pending appeals.
“When parents entrust us with their child, they expect that the very best educator will be in front [of] that child,” Deasy said. “Every day, students across the state have unfortunately been saddled with grossly ineffective teachers without recourse.”

KPCC staff

Update 10:17 a.m. Calif. judge says state teacher protections unconstitutional

A Los Angeles Superior Court judge on Tuesday called California’s teacher job protections illegal, issuing a tentative ruling striking down three state laws that he said harm children’s ability to get an adequate education and granting an enormous win to the Silicon Valley entrepreneur who bankrolled the fight.

"All Challenged Statutes are found unconstitutional…" Judge Rolf Treu wrote. "Substantial evidence presented makes it clear to this court that the Challenged Statutes disproportionately affect poor and/or minority students."

In his 16-page ruling in Vergara v. California, Treu said that current laws granting teacher tenure after two years, mandating layoffs by seniority rather than effectiveness, and a complicated teacher firing process keep ineffective teachers on the job.

California’s constitution guarantees students will receive an adequate public education and Treu was swayed by arguments by education advocates Students Matter that those job protections kept grossly ineffective teachers on the job, harming kids’ educational prospects.

"The evidence was also clear that the churning aka (dance of the lemons) of teachers caused by the lack of effective dismissal statutes and LIFO [last in, first out hiring rules] affect high poverty and minority students disproportionately," Treu wrote. "This in turn greatly affects the stability of the learning process to the detriment of such students.”

RELATED: What do you think of the court's decision in Vergara v. California education case?

The ruling is tentative, but expected to be made final.

The California Teachers Association will appeal the decision, said Jim Finberg, a lawyer hired to represent the group during the trial.

"The decision will have no immediate effect," he said, "until the court of appeals makes a decision."

Adolfo Guzman-Lopez

7:26 a.m. Calif. judge could change teacher job security

A judge plans to announce a decision Tuesday that could be a game changer for California teachers whose job security is on the line.

Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Rolf Treu, whose ruling is due on Tuesday, heard two months of testimony in a lawsuit filed by students who claim the state's teacher tenure rules deprive them of a good education.

RELATED: The lawsuit's called Vergara, but the name you should know is Welch

The suit says the system, which allows only two years for evaluation before a teacher is hired permanently, makes it almost impossible to fire ineffective teachers.

Lawyers for the teachers object to proposed changes that they say will allow the firing of teachers on a whim. They argue the current system preserves academic freedom and helps attract talented teachers to a profession that doesn't pay well.

The Associated Press

DOCUMENT: Judge Rolf M. Treu's decision