Teacher Tenure Declared Unconstitutional - Coronado Eagle & Journal | Coronado News | Coronado Island News: Islander Times News

Teacher Tenure Declared Unconstitutional

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Posted: Wednesday, September 17, 2014 3:15 pm

In June, nine students and a national non-profit organization called Students Matter received the judge’s favor on the heated Vergara v. California case. Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Rolf Treu declared five California laws regarding teacher tenure and dismissals unconstitutional.

The successful plaintiffs, among them a student named Beatriz Vergara, argued that the laws pertaining to teacher employment in the state of California were creating harmful learning environments for students, specifically in low-income and minority schools. The successful plaintiffs, among them a student named Beatriz Vergara, argued that the laws pertaining to teacher employment in the state of California were creating harmful learning environments for students, specifically in low-income and minority schools. They argued that the students in these schools weren’t receiving equal educational opportunities because of ineffective teachers. The students claimed that the tenure and dismissal policies allowed incompetent teachers to remain in the classroom, thereby hindering a student’s constitutional right to an equal education.

The first policy overturned was Permanent Employee Status or “tenure”. This statute describes the process of securing tenure: after 18 months in the classroom, teachers are offered a permanent position, which then allows them to earn lifetime employment in that school. Judge Treu struck down this form of job protection.

The next three statutes regard dismissal policies for tenured teachers. They describe the process of dismissals, including the long time frame and heavy legal costs. The state has to cover the expenses of removing a teacher, which can include lawyer’s fees, travel, facilities, and the even the salary of teachers who have been removed from the classroom. A 2009 study by the New Teacher Project found that 86% of school administrators don’t actively pursue the removal of an inefficient teacher due to the costly legal battle that would ensue.

The final statute overturned is the “last in, first out” layoff policy. When a school suffers budget cuts, as CHS will in the upcoming school year, this law states that the most recently hired employee gets dismissed first and the employee who has been there the longest would be the last to be dismissed.

“I would rather see a reflection and revisitation of the current process in place for relieving ineffective teachers, rather than making the assumption that eliminating teacher tenure will magically fix the problems of California’s schools,” said Coronado Mayor and CHS history teacher Casey Tanaka. He believes that “revamping” the recently overturned laws would be a wise choice. “It would not surprise me if this case gets overturned on appeal,” he said.

Even though Judge Treu declared that the statutes argued against were unconstitutional, he has stayed his decision, meaning that Coronado High School and every other school across the state won’t see an impact of his decision until the appellate court decides on a ruling. Teachers’ unions are already planning to appeal the case.

In the meantime, CHS Principal Jenny Moore believes that there must be a way for both teachers and students to benefit from tenure reforms. “I believe that how we develop and coach educators warrants the most attention,” she said. “In my opinion, almost every professional wants to be the best he or she can be.” Moore went on to say that developing equal educational opportunities takes work, and that school administrators need to be prepared to do just that.

CUSD Superintendent Jeffrey Felix said that he was “delighted” with the Vergara v. California ruling. “I hope that we will take advantage of this opportunity to develop employment systems that put the needs of every student first,” he said.

Mixed opinions regarding the decision have sparked a debate about tenure laws across the nation. A final decision on the fate of California schools and teachers will be confirmed within the year.

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