The Los Angeles Times reports that Students Matter (SM), a non-profit group known to oppose teachers unions, has filed suit on behalf of eight students, taking aim at California laws governing teacher tenure rules, seniority protections and the teacher dismissal process. SM’s suit is seeking to overturn five California laws that, it charges, make it too difficult to dismiss ineffective teachers.
According to the lawsuit, filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court, ”[a] handful of outdated laws passed by the California Legislature are preventing school administrators from maintaining or improving the quality of our public educational system.” The suit contends that teachers can earn tenure protections too quickly, in two years, well before their fitness for long-term employment can be determined.
The suit also seeks to invalidate the practice of first laying off less experienced teachers during a budget crisis, rather than keeping the best teachers. And it takes aim at a dismissal process that, it alleges, is too costly, too lengthy, and typically results in ineffective teachers holding on to jobs.
The move to address teacher quality has become a national issue from the Obama administration on down. However, Joshua Pechthalt, California Federation of Teachers president, contends such efforts are misguided at best, especially at a time when sweeping budget cuts have decimated schools. “We should be fighting like crazy to make sure schools are not laying off any teachers, except those who shouldn’t be in front of a classroom,” he said. Pechthalt also pointed out that those teachers can be dealt with under current laws if school systems have sufficient resources and use them properly. This latest legal effort is the most sweeping of several underway, all of which affect the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD).
The first, Reed vs. LAUSD, resulted in a settlement that allows the nation’s second-largest school district to bypass some campuses when layoffs are necessary. The teachers union has appealed. On Monday, a coalition of allied groups called for the teachers union to drop its appeal. Another ongoing case alleges that LAUSD is not following state laws that mandate regular teacher evaluations, and that they need to include evidence of student achievement. The defendants in the latest litigation include state elected officials, LAUSD, and a San Jose school district.
LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy commended the intent of the advocates for trying to force needed changes. The lawsuit “is aggressively going after long-term issues which have thwarted the rights of students to a high-quality education,” Deasy said.
The LAUSD school board has supported speeding up teacher dismissals. Deasy also wants to extend the time needed to earn tenure. The lawsuit, however, does not propose specific solutions to the laws it deems objectionable.
Source: Los Angeles Times, 5/16/12, By Howard Blume
[Editor's Note: In reference to the LAUSD settlement mentioned in the above article, Legal Clips summarized a January 2011 Associated Press (AP) article in The Washington Post, which reported that a Los Angeles County Superior Court had approved a sweeping overhaul of teacher layoff procedures. While education reformers hailed the settlement agreement as a landmark decision to keep more effective instructors in the classroom, unions denounced it as a step toward dismantling tenure. The settlement was the result of a lawsuit brought in 2010 by the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, which charged that inner-city students’ rights to a quality education was being violated by a last-hired, first-fired layoff policy.
Efforts to eliminate tenure and seniority-based layoff policies have been occurring throughout the nation. For example, in May 2011, Legal Clips summarized an AP article in the Boston Globe, which reported that the Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now (CCAN), a school reform advocacy group, was pushing the Connecticut legislature to stop school districts from using seniority to determine which teachers could face budget-related layoffs. CCAN contended that that year’s state and local budget constraints made layoffs a real threat to talented new teachers, who were first in line for cuts in many districts, while seniority shielded other teachers, even with well-documented ineptitude.]