A trial that may prove to involve a landmark decision began this week in Los Angeles County Superior Court. At issue is regulations that govern teacher tenure and dismissal practices.
The complaint was filed in 2012 on behalf of nine California public school students who live in economically disadvantaged regions. With the backing of a nonprofit organization called StudentsMatter that advocates for equal educational opportunities, the lawsuit aims to change the way teachers keep their jobs and how they can be dismissed.
Currently, public school teachers receive tenure after 18 months. The tenure regulation, which essentially guarantees that a teacher will have permanent employment, applies to all teachers regardless of their performance. Another issue is the state’s last in, first out policy. When layoffs loom, it is the teachers with the shortest service record who are the first to go, again without regard to their performance. The lawsuit also takes issue with a particularly inefficient and expensive dismissal process that makes it unduly burdensome for schools to get rid of teachers who are not effective or who have had serious complaints made against them.
The lawsuit claims that these regulations are particularly detrimental to the quality of the education received by disadvantaged California students. It alleges that teachers with poor performance records are frequently sent to low income areas that are seen as less desirable in terms of employment. The result is an inferior education for students in these areas.
Two teachers unions, the California Federation of Teachers and the California Teachers Association have both declared vehement disapproval of the litigation, stating that it demonizes teachers and is not aimed at actually correcting any of the problems that are faced by California schools. Should the lawsuit succeed, the unions say that the state may have problems attracting and retaining well qualified teachers.
Defendants have tried on three occasions to have the lawsuit dismissed. These efforts have failed, and with the case now in the hands of a judge, it will be some time before it is known whether or not this lawsuit will have implications for teachers in California and elsewhere.
If you are a California school administrator with a question about student/teacher safety, special education, accommodations, student rights, free speech or discipline, or school employment law, feel free to call attorney Richard Oppenheim at 818-461-8500. There is never a charge for an initial consultation and we can help you choose the best direction to resolve any school district legal issue.