In Partnership with The 74

Vergara reactions pour in as appeal to state Supreme Court is planned

Mike Szymanski | April 15, 2016



SM_Raylene Monterroza

Raylene Monterroza, one of the plaintiffs. (Courtesy of Students Matter)

The day after the state Court of Appeal ruled that the job protections for teachers do not predominantly harm minority students, the key players in the case said they feel confident the California Supreme Court will take up the issue.

The three-judge panel reversed a landmark 2014 ruling by Superior Judge Rolf Treu, who struck down five of the state’s tenure laws. The case is being watched nationwide and has sparked similar lawsuits in other states.

One of the nine students who filed the lawsuit, Raylene Monterroza, now 18, expressed her disappointment in a Friday conference call. “We deserve better. All of us, in every school, in every grade, in every ZIP code, so even with this decision, we will keep fighting.”

Theodore J. Boutrous Jr., attorney for the students, said the appeals court decision is “divorced from reality.” He said in the call, “We took a hit but have dusted ourselves off and are ready to fight the next round for the students who have been our inspiration from Day One.”

He is ready to appeal to the California Supreme Court and added, “We feel very good about our path going forward.”

School board president Steve Zimmer, who was on a jet and traveling when the ruling was released, said in a statement late Thursday: “Today’s important court decision allows us to return with laser focus to the real question facing our public education system: how will we recruit, train and support a new generation of teachers who will give their lives to the ideal that the American dreams of every child can come true in the schools of our state and our nation.”

Randi Weingarten

Randi Weingarten

American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten heralded the decision and said it will help with the teacher shortage problem facing the state. “It is vitally important that every single child, particularly the kids who brought this case, receive a great public education. That starts with recruiting, retaining and supporting teachers, not blaming educators for societal problems or stripping away their voice.”

Weingarten said in a statement, “The clear lesson from Vergara is that we need to solve the very real teacher shortage problem—not make matters worse by bashing and scapegoating the dedicated educators who teach our children. … When it comes to tenure and due process, these are essential protections for teachers to do their jobs, but they should never be used as a cloak for incompetence or an excuse for managers not to manage.”

Weingarten added: “Here’s the simple truth: We cannot fire or sanction our way to high-quality schools. We stand ready to roll up our sleeves and do the hard work necessary for every public school to be a place where parents want to send their children, where educators want to work and where children thrive. That takes working together to find real solutions, not attacking educators through the courts.”

The director of Education Trust-West, Ryan J. Smith, said the decision was a setback for students of color and low-income students. He pointed out that in California, 1.5 million black and Latino students do not meet standards in math or English.

“The continuing debate over the Vergara case is a linchpin to continue the conversation about the need for real equity in education,” Smith said in a statement. “The case forces California to publicly confront the inequitable reality so many of our students face in schools across the state.”

However, National Education Association president Lily Eskelsen Garcia declared the decision a victory for students and called the case “political.” “Now we must return to working on real solutions to ensure all of our students succeed. Only when teachers, school boards and administrators work together can we ensure that there is a great public school for every student.”

Eskelsen Garcia said the case “focused on the wrong issues, proposed the wrong solutions, and used the wrong legal process. It was not about helping students and has become a divisive distraction from the real work needed to improve student success. Ensuring that every student gets a good education is a critical goal but one that can’t be solved with stripping our teachers of their rights. Today was a win for our educators, our schools and most importantly, our students.”

Dave Welch, the founder of Students Matter that is supporting the students who filed the case, said, “We have set the expectation in California that students will inevitably get bad teachers. We simply expect students to go to school and for an entire year not learn.”

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Theodore Boutrous and Dave Welch

Ben Austin, the policy and advocacy director for Students Matter, said, “The political tectonic plates of public education have shifted as a result of Vergara and they aren’t shifting back.” He added, “The facts are plain as day. We can’t ignore the harm being done to our children and to our best and brightest teachers.”

Joshua Lipshutz, a lawyer in the Vergara case, told LA School Report that the judges affirmed that there were severe problems in the laws governing teachers, but their decision was completely wrong. He said this gives the state Supreme Court “a good chance to make the right decisions and help students” and to “answer difficult questions in this battle over equal protection.”

The plaintiffs have until May 24 to file a petition for review, and then the state Supreme Court has 60 days to decide if they are going to take the case or extend the review period further. It could take six months to a year once they grant the review to actually hear their appeal. That would be the last stop, as the case would not go to the U.S. Supreme Court because it deals with state law, Lipschitz said.

“The California Supreme Court can stand as a leader to the nation, and we really, really, really believe they will take it,” Boutrous said.

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