Vergara trial set to begin: major test for CA teachers

Teachers' Jobs vs Students' Rights - Vergara TrialA lawsuit that could dramatically change how California public schools deal with ineffective teachers gets underway Monday in a California Superior Court for Los Angeles County, where LA Unified Superintendent John Deasy is expected to be the first witness to testify.

The suit, Vergara v California, has been brought by students who are challenging state laws that they contend protect ineffective teachers. They say the laws deny students their constitutionally protected right to a quality education.

One law provides tenure — a guarantee of permanent employment — after 18 months. Three others govern the long and costly process of removing teachers. And a fifth, known as “Last in, first out,” ignores teacher quality in favor of seniority when layoffs are deemed necessary.

The defendants are the state, including Gov. Jerry Brown and Superintendent of Public Education Tom Torlakson, as well as the two biggest teachers unions in the state, the California Teachers Association (CTA) and the California Federation of Teachers (CFT).

Josh Pechthalt, president of the CFT, told LA School Report, “The lawsuit is without merit. It ignores the real problems of education and demonizes teachers and teachers unions for the perceived problems of public education.”

If successful, he said, the suit would make it “more difficult to attract and retain teachers” in public schools.

Theodore J. Boutrous, a lawyer for Beatriz Vergara, an LA Unified 10th grader, and the other eight students from around the state who filed the suit in 2012, told reporters this week: “The system is dysfunctional and arbitrary. Outdated laws handcuff school administrators from operating in a fashion that protects school children and their rights to equality of education.”

The defendants failed on three attempts to have the case dismissed.

“Although we had hoped this would not make it as far as trial, we do see this as an opportunity to show that teachers and laws that protect basic due process, fairness, and the right for employees to be heard are not the problem with California schools,” Frank Wells, a CTA spokesman, said in a statement. “This lawsuit does nothing to address poverty, other social issues, and ongoing lack of social and capital investment in a strong public school system.

He described the suit as “just one more well-funded corporate ‘reformer’ attack on public schools and teachers that fails to address the real problems facing California students.”

Both the California Department of Education and the state Attorney General’s office, which represents the defendants at trial, declined to comment.

The plaintiffs are claiming that five state laws combine to make it so difficult to remove ineffective teachers from public school classrooms that many children are shortchanged in their pursuit of knowledge.

The combined effect of the five regulations, said Marcellus McRae, another of the students’ lawyers, costs school districts hundreds of thousands of dollars through years of legal procedures to remove teachers who are impeding academic development.

“The system is upside down,” he said. “It favors jobs at the expense of educating children.”

The judge in the case, Rolf M. Treu, has scheduled 20 days for the trial. He, alone, will determine the outcome.

The plaintiffs have given him a list of 82 potential witnesses, including LA Unified board member Monica Garcia; the state’s list includes 60, and the unions have listed 102, including LA Unified board member Steve Zimmer.

Deasy and other potential witnesses are named on lists for both sides.

The lawsuit is sponsored by StudentsMatter, a non-profit organization that promotes access to equality in public education.

The case is one of several efforts to amend or change laws governing teachers in the state. Students First, a group founded by Michelle Rhee, the former chancellor of public schools in Washington, is gathering support for a ballot initiative that would accomplish some of the Vergara case’s same goals, and EdVoice, a nonprofit, is doing the same for an initiative that would ease rules in firing teachers accused of serious misconduct.

Previous Posts: A California court cleared the way for the ‘Vergara‘ trial to beginLawyers for ‘Bad Teacher’ defendants to ask court for dismissalOlson Previews Arguments in Vergara ‘Bad Teacher’ Lawsuit.

  • Susan Graham

    This is not a group of students who brought this suit but a “reform group” that wants to deprofessionalize teaching.

    How else to explain why the district is attempting to run out on trumped up charges some National Board Certified Teachers?

    How else to explain why a record number of teachers over the age of 40 are now being threatened with below standard Stulls.

    Many administrators were themselves unsuccessful teachers and wanted to get out of the classroom as soon as possible to make the big bucks. What makes administrators qualified to judge teachers?

    There is some good news..teachers who are hiring their own legal counsel and fighting back against the district are winning. You just aren’t hearing about it in the media.

    • Susan Graham

      If these students think their teachers are so bad, they should ask themselves why suburban teachers don’t want to teach in LAUSD and look at their communities honestly. Is there really a desire to achieve among many students? Do students complete homework? Are parent involved? In many cases the answers are “no.”
      Interesting that they are attacking teachers and not the superintendent who closed libraries and fired librarians.

    • Charlotte Vrooman

      You’re right Susan. There are three groups involved. And look who’s going to testify on their, None other than the LAUSD superintendent, that supreme teacher and union basher. Have you ever noticed that in the Beaudry headquarters, where they have the portraits of the Board and the superintendent, his is the only one that’s not smiling? Gravitas, or surliness, you be the judge.

  • Charlotte Vrooman

    There are some “bad” teachers. but not in the numbers the media and “reformers” would have us believe.

    • Josefina Sanchez

      Amen to that Charlotte V. The media has bashed and vilified and bashed teachers the last few years. Too bad the media doesn’t report on the 90% of good teachers instead of focusing on the 10% of bad teachers. I can see the future headlines now “greedy teachers demand a pay raise”.

      • Charlotte Vrooman

        Yes, why should teachers make more than minimum wage if their test scores are not high? That’s what they’re there for, right?

        • Josefina Sanchez

          People don’t realize that as a teacher there are crucial factors that we don’t have any control over such as a students homelife. If a student comes from a broken home, has a new step-father every 2 years because the mom is a hoodrat, the student is unsupervised at home because his mom is never home (because she’s partying), so the kid is a wreck who can care less about his/her test student test scores. If I was that kid I wouldn’t give a damn about state test scores neither…but Why in the Heck should Teachers pay be based on this kids test scores? That’s not Just and it is plainly wrong! It’s not my fault the Teachers fault that the kid comes from a broken home. Anyone who thinks that student test scores should be tied to teacher pay/teacher job security is an idiot and has no common sense! In that case, lets begin to tie a Cops job security to neighborhood crime rates and Firefighters to the amount of fires in a neighborhood! We all know that these things make no sense! There are crucial factors that teachers have no control over.

          • Charlotte Vrooman

            My sentiments exactly!