Governor Jerry Brown on Tuesday signed legislation that will streamline the teacher dismissal process. AB 215, by Assembly Member Joan Buchanan and principal co-authors Senators Lou Correa and Alex Padilla, passed unanimously out of the Senate and Assembly.
AB 215 prioritizes, updates and streamlines the teacher discipline and dismissal process. The California Teachers Association applauded the governor’s signature, believing that it will save the state time and money while protecting students and ensuring an educator’s rights to due process.
“For California’s educators, keeping children safe in our classrooms is always a top priority. We have long supported streamlining the dismissal process so we are pleased to see this legislation unanimously approved by the Legislature and signed by the governor,” said Dean E. Vogel, president of the 325,000-member California Teachers Association. “Our students deserve a safe learning environment and to be taught by educators who are committed and qualified.”
AB 215 clarifies current law and creates a separate hearing process for education employees charged with egregious misconduct, including child abuse, sexual abuse and certain drug offenses. School districts are required to start these egregious misconduct cases within 60 days of a complaint being filed. The case will be heard only by an administrative law judge and that decision will be binding.
Additionally, AB 215 streamlines the hearing process for all other dismissal appeals. It requires districts to hold the hearing within six months of an educator making a request and requires the hearing to be concluded within seven months. These hearings will be heard by the Commission on Professional Competence, which includes an administrative law judge and two educators. Decisions will be binding.
Mr. Vogel said this is how education reform should be done – with input from all education community stakeholders and bipartisan support. He contrasted this approach with the attempts to “legislate from the bench” employed by the wealthy backers of the deceptive Vergara v. State of California lawsuit attacking educators’ due process rights. A Los Angeles Superior Court judge ruled June 10 in favor of the lawsuit, but CTA is appealing the ruling.
“All parents should have confidence that their child’s school is a safe and nurturing environment. AB 215 will create a streamlined and fair process for dismissing school personnel charged with egregious misconduct. It will protect our children while maintaining important due process rights for educators,” said Padilla.
Assemblymember Buchanan stated, “We all agree that the current dismissal appeal process takes too long and costs too much money. The only ones who benefit are attorneys. The public demands a process that is fair and efficient and responds to the needs of school districts to efficiently manage their work force. AB 215 accomplishes these goals, and I want to thank both CTA and EdVoice for their willingness to continue to work on this issue.”
“AB 215 protects children by expediting the dismissal process of teachers who engage in egregious misconduct, such as child abuse, sexual abuse, and certain drug crimes,” said Assemblymember Kristin Olsen (R-Modesto), principal co-author of the bill and Vice Chair of the Assembly Education Committee. “It also improves a school’s ability to remove ineffective teachers by streamlining the dismissal appeal process for poor performance, reducing the time to commence the hearing to just six months. After years of trying, this is a positive step toward education reforms that are good for students, parents, and teachers, and I am really pleased that this measure received such a wide range of support.”
Supporters of the bill include the California Teachers Association, EdVoice, California State PTA, the State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, Students First, Crime Victims United, Child Abuse Prevention Council, California Federation of Teachers, and the California Labor Federation.
Under existing law, a permanent school employee is prohibited from being dismissed, except for one or more of certain enumerated causes, including immoral or unprofessional conduct. This bill would also include egregious misconduct, as defined, as a basis for dismissal, the legislature summary stated.
“This bill would additionally apply the above to egregious misconduct,” the summary continued. “The bill would authorize the governing board of a school district, if the governing board has given the above notice, based on written charges, to amend charges less than 90 days before the hearing on the charges only upon a showing of good cause. The bill would require that the employee be given a meaningful opportunity to respond to the amended charges. The bill would authorize proceedings, based solely on charges of egregious misconduct, to be initiated via an alternative process, which this bill would establish, as provided.”
“Existing law authorizes the governing board of a school district to immediately suspend an employee and give him or her notice of dismissal upon filing of written charges relating to immoral conduct, conviction of a felony, or any crime involving moral turpitude, with incompetency due to mental disability, with willful refusal to perform regular assignments without reasonable cause, as provided,” the summary continued. “This bill would authorize an employee who has been placed on suspension pursuant to the above provisions to serve and file with the Office of Administrative Hearings a motion for immediate reversal of suspension, as provided.”
Existing law provides that upon being charged, as specified, with certain sex or controlled substance offenses, a certificated employee be placed on either a compulsory leave of absence or an optional leave of absence for certain enumerated violations.
Under AB 215, the definitions of “charged with a mandatory leave of absence offense” and “charged with an optional leave of absence offense” would be revised for purposes of those provisions governing when a certificated employee is required to be placed on either a compulsory leave of absence or an optional leave of absence.
Because these revisions would increase the number of employees subject to immediate placement on compulsory leave of absence, thereby increasing the duties of school districts, the bill would impose a state-mandated local program.
Existing law requires in a dismissal or suspension proceeding against a permanent employee, if a hearing is requested by the employee, that the hearing be commenced within 60 days from the date of the employee’s demand for a hearing. This would extend that period to six months.
A few weeks ago came the Vergara v. California decision, filed by Students Matter, and backed by Silicon Valley entrepreneur David Welch.
Plaintiffs are nine California public school students “who challenge five statutes of the California Education Code, claiming said statutes violate the equal protection clause of the California Constitution.”
Plaintiffs claim that “the Challenged Statutes result in grossly ineffective teachers obtaining and retaining permanent employment, and that these teachers are disproportionately situated in schools serving predominately low-income and minority students. Plaintiffs’ equal protection claims assert that the Challenged Statutes violate their fundamental rights to equality of education by adversely affecting the quality of the education they are afforded by the state.”
The suit challenges California statutes governing due process in teacher dismissals, using experience as a criteria during school layoffs, and the two-year probationary period for teachers.
Judge Treu (pronounced Troy) writes, “This Court is asked to directly assess how the Challenged Statutes affect the educational experience. It must decide whether the Challenged Statutes cause the potential and/or unreasonable exposure of grossly ineffective teachers to all California students in general and to minority and/or low income students in particular, in violation of the equal protection clause of the California Constitution.”
He writes, “This Court finds that Plaintiffs have met their burden of proof on all issues presented.”
He states, “Evidence has been elicited in this trial of the specific effect of grossly ineffective teachers on students. The evidence is compelling. Indeed, it shocks the conscience.”
He continued, “Based on a massive study, Dr. Chetty testified that a single year in a classroom with a grossly ineffective teacher costs students $1.4 million in lifetime earnings per classroom. Based on a 4 year study, Dr. Kane testified that students in LAUSD who are taught by a teacher in the bottom 5% of competence lose 9.54 months of learning in a single year compared to students with average teachers.”
He adds, “There is also no dispute that there are a significant number of grossly ineffective teachers currently active in California classrooms. Berliner, an expert called by State Defendants, testified that 1-3% of teachers in California are grossly ineffective. Given that the evidence showed roughly 275,000 active teachers in this state, the extrapolated number of grossly ineffective teachers ranges from 2,750 to 8,250.”
In his conclusion he exhorts the legislature to write legislation “providing each child in this state with a basically equal opportunity to achieve a quality education.”
CTA is appealing the Los Angeles Superior Court decision that attacked the professional rights of educators that allows them to speak up for their students and provides a due process hearing before being dismissed.
—David M. Greenwald reporting