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Saturday, June 15, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

California Defends Teacher Tenure to Court

LOS ANGELES (CN) - California officials and teachers unions on Thursday urged a state appeals court to overturn a landmark ruling that held the Golden State's education code unconstitutionally rewards "grossly ineffective" teachers with tenure.

In a 2014 ruling that alarmed teachers unions across the nation, Los Angeles Superior County Court Judge Rolf Treu ruled that five statutes in California's education code hamper the education of poor and minority students and rewarded "grossly ineffective teachers."

On Thursday morning, a three-judge panel of the Second Appellate District heard the case at the Ronald Reagan State Building in downtown LA.

California Deputy Attorney General Nimrod Elias said teacher tenure is a valuable tool in attracting and retaining the best teachers in the state and that the plaintiffs, nine California public school students, had failed to present statewide evidence that the statutes adversely affect students.

"There was actually ample evidence that there were benefits to these statutes," Elias said.

California Teachers Association attorney Michael Rubin said affirming Treu's ruling would go too far "by blowing up the entire system" and said that there had been no violation of the students' equal protection rights under the California Constitution. He said there will always be ineffective teachers, with or without tenure.

"There's always going to be a bottom 5 percent of teachers," Rubin said.

Four years ago, the law firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher represented the students in the landmark case, Vergara v. California.

At issue are state laws that students say unfairly grant teachers permanent employment, prevent removal of ineffective teachers from classrooms and during economic downturns lead to layoffs of teachers based on seniority rather than merit.

Under those laws, poor and minority schools end up with a disproportionate amount of "lemon" teachers who secure tenure in as little as 16 months, the students say.

California and the teachers union defending the case argued that extending the probationary period would chip away at a benefit that attracts quality teachers and protects them from the whims of school officials and administrators.

At the hearing Thursday, the students' attorney Theodore Boutrous urged the court to affirm.

"Judge Treu had it absolutely right: this 'shocks the conscience,'" Boutrous said, quoting the ruling.

Boutrous said the union had acknowledged during the case that a probationary period of two years was too short and that teachers should have to wait three to five years for tenure.

Presiding Judge Roger Boren and Associate Judges Judith Ashmann-Gerst and Brian Hoffstadt sat on the panel.

Treu's ruling has been stayed pending the appeal.

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