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Monday, May 27, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Parents Say L.A. Schools Defy State Law

LOS ANGELES (CN) - Five parents sued the Los Angeles Unified School District in Superior Court, claiming that for four decades it has refused to comply with a state law that it regularly evaluate teachers, "with data that reasonably measures, among other criteria, whether or not the students under an employee's charge are actually learning."

The plaintiffs - five mothers, a father and nine children, all filing as Does - claim that the district, "which annually fails hundreds of children," has violated the children's "fundamental right to basic educational equality and opportunity" by failing to comply with a section of the California Education Code known as the Stull Act.

"The children and their parents ask the court to enforce a reasonable and four decade old statutory state law that requires the district to evaluate certificated employees' on-the-job performance with data that reasonably measures, among other criteria, whether or not the students under an employee's charge are actually learning," the complaint states.

Named as defendants are Superintendent John Deasy, the seven members of the Board of Education, the Associated Administrators of Los Angeles (AALA), the United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA) and the California Public Employment Relations Board.

Scott Witlin, with Barnes & Thornburg, filed suit for the advocates. He told Courthouse News he was "concerned" because the district is "ignoring the group that's supposed to be the beneficiary of the school system, the children. They have a constitutional right to education. The school district doesn't exist for the adults."

The parents and kids say the district "never obeyed" the Stull Act's mandate to establish standards of pupil achievement and evaluate teachers according to their students' progress.

They claim that "groups of politically powerful adults," have obstructed the law since it was enacted in 1971.

According to the plaintiffs, the AALA and UTLA have "historically fought" teacher evaluations based on student progress and collectively bargained to prevent implementation of the law.

"Both the AALA and the UTLA have historically fought against certificated personnel evaluations being tied in any way to student learning," the complaint states. "The result is decades during which prior LAUSD superintendents and school boards have entered into unlawful collective bargaining contracts with these associations of adults that prevented compliance with the statutory mandate of evaluating certificated staff based even in part on available evidence of whether or not the children are learning.

"Indeed, the 2009-2011 collective bargaining agreement (CBA) and, on information and belief, the current one-year extension of the CBA between the AALA and the LAUSD does not allow for administrators to be evaluated as mandated by the Stull Act regarding the progress of pupils toward the standards established pursuant to Section 44662(a) and, if applicable, the state adopted academic content standards as measured by state adopted criterion-referenced assessments."

The parents say the superintendent has publicly revealed his hostility to performance reviews: "For example, the superintendent recently stated that, 'I would argue that nobody has told me that the current system of evaluation, which is performance review, helps anybody. It is fundamentally useless. It does not actually help you get better at [your] work and it doesn't tell you how well you're doing.'

"The superintendent went on to state, 'One would have to argue: "So ... there are schools where 3 percent of the students are proficient at math and 100 percent of the teachers are at the top rating performance." That doesn't make sense to me whatsoever. And it doesn't make sense because the rating performance does not actually help teachers get better.'" (Brackets and ellipsis in complaint.)

The parents say that poor teachers are disciplined under the current system only if "they fail to meet an illegal standard of satisfactory performance or are convicted of the commission of serious crimes leading to mandatory credential suspension or revocation."

The complaint continues: "As a result, the adults' collective employment and political interests are turning the children's opportunity to learn and their fundamental right to basic educational equality in the public schools on its head and instead the system is protecting the working conditions of the certificated personnel, as well as preserving the political power of the board and the superintendent. ... And worse for the disenfranchised and socio-economically disadvantaged children, these adults have created systematic harm to students by allowing contracts to produce a concentration of under-qualified and ineffective certificated staff in chronically failing schools.

"There can be no dispute that the nation's second largest school district is a broken school system that has failed millions of children over the past 40 years and limited the future potential of the children and community of Los Angeles in large part due to the failure of the adults who are responsible for governing, managing and evaluating the district's certificated personnel, by failing to establish a lawful standard for satisfactory performance of certificated adults, which necessarily must be based, at least in part, upon student progress. The very purpose of the district has been turned on its head by adults focused on employment conditions and political power instead of individual performance assessment and accountability measured at least in part on whether or not children are actually progressing toward standards of expected achievement. It is simply unacceptable under California Constitutional and statutory law to ignore the plight of students any longer.

"This petition seeks a writ of judicial mandate to compel the LAUSD immediately to comply with the clear mandate of the Stull Act and its strengthened statutory revisions, and further seeks a preliminary injunction to enjoin the district, its superintendent, members of the Board of Education, and the representatives of certificated personnel from using collective bargaining force to compel the district to continue to violate the Stull Act and from continuing to injure the children, their parents and guardians, the community of Los Angeles and the state of California. Forty years of deliberate and calculated noncompliance with such a key state requirement is enough."

The parents say they filed as Does for fear of "intimidation and retaliation against themselves and their children."

The Los Angeles Unified School District did not respond to a request for comment.

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