Join the GOOGLE +Rubber Room Community

Thursday, April 14, 2016

California Appeals Court Overturns Anti-Union Lawsuit Vergara v California

See the decision.

Betsy Combier
Editor, NYC Rubber Room Reporter
Editor, New York Court Corruption
Editor, National Public Voice
Editor, NYC Public Voice

In a win for unions, appeals court reverses ruling that threw out teacher tenure in California
Beatriz Vergara

In a win for unions, appeals court reverses ruling that threw out teacher tenure in California
In a major victory for unions, a California appeals court reversed a lower court ruling that threw out tenure and other job protections for the state's public school teachers.
The case was being closely watched across the country because advocates argued allowing administrators to more easily fire bad teachers would improve schools and student performance. Right now, there are a series of job protections that are evoked before school districts can remove a teacher.
“I think it’s a win certainly for educators, but also a win for students,” California Teachers Assn. President Eric C. Heins said of Thursday's ruling. “The trial never made the connection between the harms they were alleging and the statutes they were challenging. I think the laws have been working.”
A judge’s 2014 ruling in the case, Vergara vs. California, held that several key job protections for teachers are so harmful to students that they deprive children of their constitutional right to an education.
Lawyers representing the state of California and its powerful teachers unions argued earlier this year before the three-judge panel that the decision should be reversed and that the laws in question do not violate students’ rights. 
At issue was the ruling by L.A. County Superior Court Judge Rolf Treu, which nullified the state’s system of awarding strong protections for teachers — including tenure, which takes effect at the end of their second year on the job.
Treu’s decision would have ended tenure as well as the practice of “last-in, first-out,” which typically results in districts laying off less-experienced teachers during budget cuts — regardless of how well they do in their job.
And Treu also threw out rules that provide teachers a longer and more complex system to challenge dismissals.
Backers of the lawsuit argued that making it easier for schools to get rid of bad teachers would help schools.
Treu concluded the state's tenure and seniority systems harmed all students, but especially poor and minority students, leading to outcomes that "shocked the conscience."
Had the ruling been upheld, teachers at unionized schools would no longer be entitled to a level of job security that's rare, even in the public sector.
Opponents, including Gov. Jerry Brown and the state's teachers unions, characterize this solution as simplistic and even dangerous.
They say that killing tenure and seniority would result in a lower-quality teaching corps, and that the profession would attract and retain fewer of the sort of talented people who have other career options.
The plaintiffs said they plan to appeal the ruling. Lead counsel Theodore Boutrous called the ruling a “temporary setback” in a statement, adding that the Court of Appeals “mistakenly” blames school districts. “The mountain of evidence we put on at trial proved … that the irrational, arbitrary, and abominable laws at issue in this case shackle school districts and impose severe and irreparable harm on students,” Boutrous said.
But the ruling’s strong and direct language would make it difficult for the plaintiffs to win an appeal with the California Supreme Court, an expert said. The ruling repeats that the plaintiffs did not offer enough evidence to show that teacher tenure statutes are themselves unconstitutional, said Stuart Biegel, a UCLA education and law professor.
For the Record
5:02 p.m.: An earlier version of this post incorrectly said the court ruled that the plaintiffs did not have enough evidence to show teacher tenure statutes are not in themselves unconstitutional. It has been corrected.
“This shows that it’s not going to be so easy to win such a case in a court of law” in other states, Biegel said. "But it doesn’t necessarily show that teacher tenure is alive and well and shouldn’t be reformed.”
“The court found that it was administrative decisions that caused the harm that plaintiffs had been discussing,” rather than the statutes themselves, Biegel said.
The reasoning of the ruling is sound, according to Kevin Welner, a professor at the University of Colorado-Boulder, and the director of that school’s National Education Policy Center.
“The case is built by two different houses of cards, one stacked on the other: the factual record and how they were presenting the law,” he said. “The appellate court knocked down both houses here.”
The ruling should send a message to Treu because it was unanimous and went through the lower ruling point by point, said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers union. “The lower court judge basically ruled on his ideology, not on the evidence,” she said.
Weingarten acknowledges that the current tenure laws are problematic, and said that the state of California should “work together” to improve them. But, she added, “you can’t fire your way to a teaching force.”
Vergara has caused small ripple effects across the country. A similar suit supported by the Partnership for Educational Justice, an organization founded by former CNN news anchor Campbell Brown, is ongoing in New York.
On Wednesday, the organization announced another lawsuit against tenure, this time in Minnesota. There, four mothers filed suit, alleging that the state’s tenure and teacher dismissal laws are unconstitutional because they impede their children’s ability to access a constitutionally promised "general and uniform" and “thorough and efficient” public school system.
The statutes, the parents allege, “perpetuate Minnesota’s opportunity gaps."
In California, blaming administrators rather than the system as it is set up wouldn’t have as much of a national reach, said Mark Paige, a public policy professor at University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth.
“They wanted the knockout punch, and had they gotten that through sort of a systemwide strike-down, then the dominoes could have fallen in Minnesota and in New York,” Paige said. “But had they gone with a … focus it probably wouldn’t have served the objective of striking down tenure entirely.”
This case has brought much-needed attention to the way that state teacher tenure and layoff policies, paired with local agreements between teachers unions and school districts, cause high-need students to get stuck with inexperienced teachers and high turnover of those teachers, Strunk said.
Even if a higher court maintains this decision, Strunk said, “we’re seeing a lot of pressure on state legislatures to do something.”
California Assembly Republican Leader Chad Mayes, who represents Yucca Valley, said in a statement that he disagreed with the ruling, though he added that the Legislature can and should act on tenure without a court mandate.
“Legislators in Sacramento have the tools available right now to end bad policies such as ‘Last In, First Out’ and our currently flawed teacher tenure system,” Mayes said. “It is time to stop defending laws that are clearly indefensible and deprive low-income and minority students of a good education.”

BREAKING NEWS: California Appeals Court Unanimously Reverses Vergara Decision!