A California Appeals Court on February 25 heard oral arguments on Vergara v. California, a lawsuit that threatens to undermine the teaching profession and public education in the state of California.
The California Teachers Association (CTA) in a statement called it “a meritless lawsuit” initiated by charter school advocates who want to privatize public education.
The plaintiff’s’ suit questions the constitutionality of sections of the state Education Code that have been in effect in one form or another since 1921.
Specifically, the suit seeks to abolish the state’s two-year probationary period for teachers, eliminate just cause protections for teachers no longer on probation, and eliminate seniority as the basis for determining layoffs.
The plaintiffs’ suit was initiated by a group called Students Matter, whose founder is a Silicon Valley multi-millionaire named David Welch.
The suit is backed by charter school advocate groups Student’s First and Parent Revolution and charter school promoter Eli Broad.
The California Teachers Association (CTA) and the California Federation of Teachers (CFT) have joined the State of California to defend the sections of the Education Code under attack.
Laura Lacar, a high school teacher and member of CFT, said that the sections under attack protect her from arbitrary and unjust actions by her employer.
“It would be very scary to me, if this lawsuit succeeds, to think that I might not have a job next year, not for anything I’d done in the classroom, but because my principal didn’t like me, or my clothing, or something I’d said,” said Lacar.
Gaby Ibarra, an elementary teacher who belongs to CTA said that the protections now guaranteed by law give her the freedom to be innovative and creative.
“My rights in the classroom are what protect the right of my students to a good education,” said Ibarra.
“Simply put, this lawsuit highlights the wrong problems, proposes the wrong solutions, and follows the wrong process,” said CTA in its statement.
A local judge ruled in favor of the plaintiffs finding that sections of the state’s Education Code that provide a moderate amount of job security to teachers is unconstitutional.
Prior to the February 25 appeals hearing, civil rights groups, constitutional law professors, school board officials, and labor unions filed friend of the court briefs challenging the lower court’s ruling.
The friend of the court brief by constitutional scholars states that the lower court’s decision “disregarded well-respected principles” that must be followed when ruling that a law is unconstitutional.
The brief filed by school board officials says that the lower court’s decision “will only make (school) administrators jobs more difficult” because “the decision disregards the beneficial role that the challenged statutes may play in the California education system.”
According to the school board officials, the challenged statutes provide California teachers with a modicum of job security that help attract people to the teaching profession and “provides them with the confidence to teach in innovative ways.”
“If we want to improve education, a critical starting point is to encourage skilled professionals to enter and remain in the profession,” continues the school board officials’ brief. “Measures that make public school teaching an attractive career choice are thus in the interest of public school students; those that make it less attractive are not. The plaintiffs’ elimination of many basic due process protections for teachers will have just that effect, harming students in the long run”
The brief by civil rights group said that education inequality is the result of a lack of adequate funding, not as the plaintiffs argue statutes that ensure fair treatment for teachers.
“Plaintiffs failed to meet their requisite burden of proving that the statutes affording teachers tenure and other related employment protections are causally connected to a deprivation of education that violates students’ constitutional rights,” reads the brief from civil rights groups. . . . “Simply put, the record does not support a finding of causation from the challenged statutes, and ignored other factors, particularly the lack of adequate funding, that impacts the delivery of a constitutional education in California’s most impoverished schools and communities.”
At a media conference outside of the hearing, long-time labor and civil rights advocate Dolores Huerta spoke out against the lawsuit and the group that initiated and financed it.
“I strongly believe in providing all children with equal access to a quality public education, and that starts with having educators who have the professional rights to stand up and speak out for the students in their classrooms,” said Huerta. “All my life I have worked to fight discrimination, uphold the rights of workers and improve social and economic conditions for our students and their families. I am not going to stop now by aligning myself with an organization (Students Matter) that blatantly misrepresents the facts and pushes an agenda to strip workers of their rights for the financial gain of its backers.”