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State Court overturns case regarding tenure

On April 14, the California Court of Appeals reversed the California Superior Court’s decision in the Vergara v. California case which was previously decided against California, declaring certain laws regarding tenure as unconstitutional. Vergara v. California was a lawsuit filed by nine California high school students fighting for their right to effective teachers.

The students argue that California’s system of hiring and retaining effective teachers is not consistent with the state constitution because it does not give students an equal education. The students claimed that these statutes had a disproportionate impact on minority and impoverished students due to the fact that less affluent schools were more likely to hire ineffective teachers.

There were five statutes of the current that the lawsuit addressed and wanted changed; the main three were the Permanent Employment Statute, Dismissal Statute and “Last-In, First-Out” Statute.

The Permanent Employment Statute makes administrators either grant or deny permanent employment to teachers after a 16-month evaluation period. The Dismissal Statute refers to the expensive and time-consuming process, a district must go through in order to fire a single teacher. Lastly, the “Last-In First-Out” statute makes districts base their layoffs on staff seniority rather than the performance and quality of a teacher.

The plaintiffs argued that evaluating teachers for tenure after just two years in combination with the cost of firing one teacher being upwards of hundreds of thousands of dollars it is easy for low-performing teachers to get locked into their job.

The panel of three appeals judges decided that the statutes were not to blame for districts putting ineffective teachers in place. Since the laws did not instruct the districts where to place teachers they were not in violation with the state constitution.

The California Teachers Association (CTA) claimed that the case had no merit and that the laws in question were of no harm to students.

“[The Appeals Court’s] ruling overwhelmingly underscores that the laws under attack have been good for public education and for kids,” CTA President Eric Heins said in a statement on the CTA website. “[The lawsuit] was a wrong-headed scheme developed by people with no education expertise and the appellate court justices saw that.”

The decisions of Vergara v. California could have had a direct effect on the way teachers are granted tenure, hired and fired at Palo Alto High School as well.

“I think the main problem with the case was a misdiagnosis of what the root of the problem was,” Paly English teacher David Cohen said. “The laws don’t cause the problem … That is not to say that the laws are perfect though. I’m sure that all the laws in question could be improved upon.”

The original case at the trial court level for Vergara v. California started in January 2014 and lasted for two months. Judge Rolf Treu ruled that all statutes challenged by the students were unconstitutional because they violated the students’ rights to an equal education and allowed for poorly performing teachers to stay employed indefinitely. In April of the same year, Gov. Jerry Brown appealed the court decision.

No changes had been made to any laws after the preliminary ruling due to a stay put on the ruling, therefore not requiring anyone to act based on the verdict, pending the appeal.

The nine students have already announced their intentions of appealing to the state Supreme Court, in hopes that the case will be Appeals Court decision will be reversed.

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