In Wake of Vergara Ruling, Legislature Moves Quickly to Streamline Teacher Dismissal Process

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Legislation to 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 and is now headed to the governor’s desk for his signature. AB 215 prioritizes, updates and streamlines the teacher discipline and dismissal process – saving time and money, while protecting students and ensuring an educator’s rights to due process.

Principal co-author Senator Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima) presented the bill to his Senate colleagues, emphasizing the importance of ensuring student safety.

“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.

“We have long supported changes to the dismissal process. Passage of AB 215 addresses our concerns of keeping students safe, safeguarding the integrity of the profession, and protecting the due process rights of educators,” said CTA President Dean E. Vogel. “Students and families in our communities can be reassured knowing there are immediate protections for students and a streamlined and shortened dismissal process to ensure egregious charges against teachers are handled fairly and in a timely manner.”

AB 215 updates and prioritizes the teacher discipline and dismissal appeal process with the goals of keeping students safe, saving time and money, and ensuring due process rights for educators.

The bill creates a separate hearing process for education employees charged with egregious misconduct, including child abuse, sexual abuse and certain drug offenses. Districts are required to start these egregious misconduct cases within 60 days of a complaint being filed. The case will be heard by an administrative law judge and that decision will be binding.

“Unanimous, bipartisan passage of this bill flies in the face of this week’s flawed ruling in the deceptive lawsuit, Vergara v. State of California, and clearly shows that changes to education laws can and do happen through the legislative process where parents, teachers, community members and all education stakeholders have the opportunity for input, discussion and debate,” added Mr. Vogel. “This manufactured lawsuit was not about helping students, but yet another attempt by millionaires and corporate special interests to undermine the teaching profession and push their agenda on California public schools and students.”

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.

Last week 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

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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17 thoughts on “In Wake of Vergara Ruling, Legislature Moves Quickly to Streamline Teacher Dismissal Process”

  1. Davis Progressive

    this would seem to address most of the gross misconduct but not concerns that were raised about ineffective teaching. i’m not necessarily in favor of changing tenure on that level because of the difficulties measuring performance, but this clearly doesn’t address that issue.

  2. Frankly

    Good defensive move by the Democrat-education union dictatorship to again block teacher performance accountability for all but the most egregious of circumstances.

    Ladies and gentlemen, I want to introduce you to the only profession on the planet that thinks it is above having its performance assessed. I guess we should consider teachers just like artists, and the beauty of their work is only contained in the eyes of the beholders.

    The unfortunate result of this view is the destruction of so many canvasses the teachers attempt to “paint” on.

    1. Davis Progressive

      i don’t believe teachers believe that they are above having their performance assessed. the question is really about how, when, and what happens as the result of it.

    2. wdf1

      Frankly: Ladies and gentlemen, I want to introduce you to the only profession on the planet that thinks it is above having its performance assessed. I guess we should consider teachers just like artists, and the beauty of their work is only contained in the eyes of the beholders.

      You’re supposed to give us an article explaining how to assess teacher performance so as to make dismissal efficient and effective. Finish it right away and submit it so we can have a more productive discussion.

    3. TrueBlueDevil

      After dragging their feet for years, they sure got this out quick, eh?

      And when the CTA votes for it so easily, you know it smells. They probably wrote the legislation!

          1. wdf1

            Frankly: I think all but one Republican voted against it.

            I’d be interested to know how you figured that out. Even David G. in his article above specifically pointed out that the bill passed unanimously.

            Bill reforming teacher dismissals goes to governor

            SACRAMENTO, Calif. — A bill making it easier to fire abusive educators heads to Gov. Jerry Brown two days after a judge found California’s teacher tenure laws unconstitutional.

            AB215 passed the Assembly on a 76-0 vote Thursday. The bill is carried by Democratic Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan of Alamo after three years of failed legislative attempts to overhaul teacher dismissals.

            The Assembly has 55 Democrats and 24 Republicans with one vacant seat at present.

  3. wdf1

    Vanguard: In Wake of Vergara Ruling, Legislature Moves Quickly to Streamline Teacher Dismissal Process

    The title suggests that the Vergara ruling brought about this legislation. That is not the case. This is a third attempt at legislation responding the the case of a handful of teachers at Miramonte Elementary School in LAUSD who, in January 2012, were arrested and charged with lewd conduct and sexual abuse of students. Legislation seeks to make it easier to get such teachers out of the system when there is evidence of this kind of activity. I think the governor vetoed previous efforts. Right now this legislation has again reached the governor’s desk.

  4. TrueBlueDevil

    LAUSD had to pay accused teacher Mark Berndt $40,000 to leave his teaching position. There are at least 23 serious charges against him, hence his $23M bail.

    In addition…

    “Under current law, appeals of dismissals can extend for well over a year, which can result in legal costs of several hundred thousand dollars. For that reason, the changes are a huge step forward, supporters said.

    “The broader dismissal process was a target in Vergara vs. California, a lawsuit decided last week.

    “In his ruling, L.A. County Superior Court Judge Rolf M. Treu threw out the state’s system for dismissing teachers. He said the cost and time required were so prohibitive that districts failed to act against grossly ineffective instructors.”

    http://www.latimes.com/local/education/la-me-teacher-dismissal-bill-20140617-story.html

    “Using similar reasoning, the judge also eliminated the state process under which teachers receive the strong job protections of tenure. And, he ruled that quality as well as seniority must be considered when laying off a teacher because of budget cuts.”

    “Lawmakers had made several unsuccessful attempts in recent years to make it easier to fire teachers charged with severe offenses after a string of high-profile abuse cases. Teacher unions used their influence to help block these bills, calling them an overreach that needlessly diminished the rights of teachers. The unions also defended the state laws under challenge in the Vergara case.”

  5. tribeUSA

    Why not deal with issues of gross misconduct and issues of “ineffective” teaching separately?
    Seems to me this bill may be a good reform of policies surrounding misconduct; but I am very wary of the inclusion of reforms re “ineffective” teaching.
    Why lump these together? These two issues should be dealt with separately.

  6. Ingrid Salim

    Unfortunately, I think a number of complex issues got caught up in these rulings. Most teachers agree that for egregious criminal acts it should be easier to remove teachers. So, that’s now done. But the rest is murkier. Tenure and layoffs are two different issues. Tenure is awarded primarily to protect teachers from subjective, biased dismissals. Most of us in education agree that the process for firing an incompetent teacher needs to be less bureaucratic, but as you note in these pages as well as any forum on the subject, there is a LOT of debate about how best to evaluate and measure teacher performance. Since the ‘product’ involves the cognitive, behavioral and social-emotional growth of a human being, it is inherently a daunting task. At the same time, some education systems make it politically or in other ways almost impossible to get rid of individuals who may not be effective — so that problem, of empowering school authorities to do this job, is a different one.

    Tthe seniority issue is one that gets discussed every time there are layoffs. Layoffs do not have to do with quality, so the perception of fairness when layoffs are applied is crucial to the overall workings of an organization. If colleagues in any profession are going to be ranked, the only objective criterion we’ve all come up with is the years of service. Certainly, this DOES mean that some more effective colleagues are sometimes let go, as seniority certainly does not always parallel effectiveness. However, for the overall morale, which absolutely contributes directly to students’ experience in the classroom, this process needs to be perceived as fair. Despite the ruling, I think it is a bad call to ask districts to rank their teachers , at all, but particularly to use such a ranking for layoffs. The how of that ranking is determined (back to the evaluation murkiness), and the effects of those rankings will be disastrous.

    That said, in California most districts use a salary schedule that grants increases with additional years. When transfers take place between districts, only a few years are granted on the new schedule, ranging between 5 to 12. Few districts grant placement on a year-for-year basis. This means that strong educators wishing to make a change, to use their skills in a more difficult environment, usually cannot afford to do so. If a teacher with 20 years experience moves to a new district she will, on average, incur a 15K decrease in pay. And most of us can’t afford to do that.

    Finally, this suit had to do with the level of educators at low-income schools, where conditions are more challenging, and resources not as plentiful. While I do think it necessary to continue the conversation of how we turn education into a more professional field, where evaluations have meaning and where ineffective teachers can be terminated, I wish the conversation could shift to what we can do to bring strong, expert, qualified teachers into these more challenging circumstances. My guess is that these jobs are filled after qualified teachers have picked others; that there are few incentives for taking on a project that seems to lack support or resources and that if those parts are missing, even strong teachers who might consider realize they would be paddling against a current, and therefore would not be as effective as they would want to be. My call: let’s fix our education system. Let’s put enough resources into that system to lower class size substantially, increase resources directly to classroom teachers, upgrade buildings and environments so there isn’t mold or rust or gross carpet (adults would not work in the conditions we sometimes put kids and teachers in), and offer incentives for teams of teachers and administrators who are willing to go into difficult situations, and given them whatever support and resources they need. There is a solution.

    1. wdf1

      Ingrid, Thanks for sharing your comments.

      …seniority certainly does not always parallel effectiveness.

      No, but odds are that it tends to. Here’s a story that ACLU-haters might have some trouble with, because it means you might have to love the teacher seniority system:

      All schools should have good teachers

      It’s nice to know that tens of millions of extra dollars will go to 37 low-income schools after the Los Angeles Unified School District settled a class-action suit on behalf of students. But the lawsuit, undertaken by the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups, was never about money; it was about policies that require teachers with the least seniority to be laid off first when there are staff reductions. So although the added funding will help attract and retain teachers for a few years, the lawsuit fell short of its original aim of doing away with the “last-in-first-out” policy.

      The issue of who gets laid off at low-income schools goes to the heart of whether the students with the greatest needs, because of poverty and language barriers, will be taught by excellent teachers.

      The schools involved in the lawsuit were staffed by a disproportionate number of new teachers; when the state’s fiscal crisis hit, that meant those schools lost more teachers. Seniority rules allow more experienced teachers to transfer to other schools more easily when there are openings, and allow less-experienced teachers to be replaced when there are layoffs.

      At Markham Middle School, for example, close to half the teachers were laid off in 2010. They were replaced by more senior teachers who were bumped from jobs at other schools. But Markham’s leaders worried that these experienced teachers would be too set in their ways to succeed under the aggressive turnaround plan that was in place at the school. In any case, losing that many teachers at one school in one year is highly disruptive. The situation at Markham gave rise to the ACLU lawsuit.

      At first, the district settled the case by agreeing not to lay off any more teachers at the affected schools, but that settlement was overturned in court because the teachers union had not been a party to it. The case was slowly making its way to trial when the cash settlement was reached this month.

      In the meantime, an interesting thing had happened at Markham. According to a Times report in late 2010, test scores rose in the year the more experienced teachers took over the classrooms. Despite the outrage over the dismissal of the newer teachers, those with more seniority may have been more effective at raising achievement levels.

      In other words, the debate about effective teaching may have been led off course by the bitter arguments over last-in-first-out layoff laws.

      And there’s this: What Happens When Great Teachers Get $20,000 to Work in Low-Income Schools?

      In 10 cities, including Los Angeles, Miami, and Houston, researchers at Mathematica identified open positions in high-poverty schools with low test scores, where kids performed at just around the 30th percentile in both reading and math. To fill some of those positions, they selected from a special group of transfer teachers, all of whom had top 20 percent track records of improving student achievement at lower poverty schools within the districts, and had applied to earn $20,000 to switch jobs. The rest of the open positions were filled through the usual processes, in which principals select candidates from a regular applicant pool.

      If a transfer teacher stayed in her new, tougher placement for two years, she’d earn the $20,000 in five installments, regardless of how well her new students performed. In public education, $20,000 is a whopping sum, far more generous than the typical merit pay bonus of a few hundred or a few thousand dollars.

      In the process, a remarkable thing happened. The transfer teachers significantly outperformed control-group teachers in the elementary grades, raising student achievement by 4 to 10 percentile points—a big improvement in the world of education policy, where infinitesimal increases are often celebrated.

      Perhaps even more importantly, the transfer teachers stuck with their new jobs. Over 90 percent remained in the high-poverty schools while the bonuses were being paid, and 60 percent stayed on after the experiment ended. That means the transfer teachers were about 20 percent more likely than other new teachers (those ineligible for the bonuses) to commit to working in a low-income school. That’s an important finding, because other recent research shows that in schools with high teacher turnover, student achievement suffers.

      It’s also worth pointing out that these transfer teachers were far from the Teach for America archetype of a young, transient Ivy League grad. Their average age was 42, and they had an average of 12 years of experience in the classroom. They were also more likely than control group teachers to be African-American, to be homeowners, and to hold a master’s degree. In short, they were stable adults with deep ties to the cities in which they worked.

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