Judge strikes down California teacher tenure, seniority

Superior Court Judge Rolf M. Treu ruled Tuesday that the longstanding state laws which ensure job security for public school teachers are unconstitutional because of the harm done to students, especially low-income minority children, by incompetent classroom teachers. The laws protecting teachers "impose a real and appreciable impact on students' fundamental right to equality of education," Treu wrote in a 16-page decision. "The evidence is compelling. Indeed, it shocks the conscience."

The reach if this decision could be huge if it holds up on appeal. From the LA Times story:

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan called the ruling a nationwide "mandate" to change similar "laws, practices and systems that fail to identify and support our best teachers and match them with our neediest students." He said the welfare of "millions of young people" is at stake.

The verdict represents a major loss for teacher unions and an undiluted victory by the attorneys and families that brought the landmark case on behalf of a well-funded Silicon Valley group.

Los Angeles schools Supt. John Deasy, who testified for the winning side, called the ruling "historic" and a "call to action."

Union leaders and other critics faulted the outcome.

"This is a sad day for public education," said Randi Weingarten, head of the American Federation of Teachers. No student should endure an ineffective teacher, "but in focusing on these teachers who make up a fraction of the workforce, [Treu] strips the hundreds of thousands of teachers who are doing a good job of any right to a voice."

More from the LA Weekly:

The suit had been brought about by nine public school students, including Beatriz and Elizabeth Vergara. Their all-star legal team, paid for by Silicon Valley telecom magnate David Welch, included Ted Boutrous (of Perry v. Schwarzenegger fame - the case that struck down Proposition 8 and legalized gay marriage in California) and Marcellus McRae.

They took aim at five laws governing how teachers are fired - or, rather, not fired - in California public schools: the teacher protection statute, which says that all teachers must be considered for tenure within two years of being first hired; the "last in, first out law," which says that layoffs ordered as a cost-saving measure must be done in reverse order of seniority; and three "dismissal statutes," which make firing a tenured teacher a long and arduous process.

When the decision was handed down at 10 a.m., the attorneys representing the students could be seen running down the halls. When asked the verdict, one said, "It's a win. All five." Close behind was LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy, who said, "I can't comment. But it's pretty unbelievable."

Deasy has, controversially, worked hard to weed out L.A. Unified's bad teachers. He was a key witness for the student plaintiffs - and, in a way, for the defense as well, who argued that the superintendent's success showed that the local school districts were to blame for the existence of incompetent teachers, not the education code.

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