At the start of a trial challenging state education employment
policy, attorneys argued that California guidelines for permanent
hiring, firing and layoff practices for K-12 public school teachers
violate the constitutional rights of students by denying them
The lawsuit, opposed by teacher union leaders, comes at a time of
bitter political wrangling over how best to reinvigorate a U.S.
public school system that leaves American children lagging
counterparts in countries like Finland and South Korea.
Among the rules targeted by the lawsuit is one that requires school
administrators to either grant or deny tenure status to teachers
after the first 18 months of their employment, which they complain
causes administrators to hastily give permanent employment to
potentially problematic teachers.
"School districts, like any other organization, need to be able to
manage their workforce in a rational way with a primary focus on
putting the highest quality teachers in front of students," attorney
Theodore Boutrous of the education advocacy group Students Matter
said during opening statements. "But they can't do it because of
The plaintiffs are also challenging three laws they say make it
difficult to fire low-performing tenured teachers by requiring years
of documentation, dozens of procedural steps and significant amounts
of public funds before a dismissal.
Lastly, the plaintiffs want to abolish the so-called "last-in
first-out" statute, which requires administrators to lay off
teachers based on reverse seniority.
The group says the layoff policy disproportionately affects minority
and low-income students, who are more likely to have entry-level
teachers and poor quality senior teachers assigned to their
When layoffs hit, junior teachers typically go first, which Boutrous
argued leaves a higher number of "grossly ineffective" teachers
He cited a study of the Los Angeles Unified School District that
said black students were over 40 percent more likely to be taught by
an underachieving instructor than their white peers.
The plaintiffs, California public school students from elementary to
high school-age, filed the lawsuit in May 2012 against Governor
Jerry Brown, the California Department of Education, Superintendent
Tom Torlakson and the California Board of Education.
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Opponents of the lawsuit say it ignores the larger issue of
education funding problems and district mismanagement. If
successful, they say the case would create an unstable system that
could fail to attract qualified teachers to a job that often offers
low pay for hard work.
"We don't think stripping teachers of their workplace professional
rights will help students," said California Federation of Teachers
President Joshua Pechthalt.
James Finberg, attorney for the California Teachers Association and
California Federation of Teachers said the tenure and dismissal
statutes in question provide necessary "due process" for teachers,
who could otherwise be subject to favoritism or politics when facing
State Deputy Attorney General Nimrod Elias said low- performing
teachers were sometimes assigned to teach subjects inappropriate for
their skill sets, or suffered from a lack of teaching resources.
He argued that the small number of ineffective teachers in
California schools could also often be reformed or persuaded to
"In well-managed school districts, struggling teachers either
improve or leave on their own without needing to go through the
dismissal process," Elias said.
He said unequal distribution of junior teachers to poor and minority
students was a result of faulty district management and not a direct
result of the statutes. But he added that many factors causing the
learning gap between affluent and poor students were beyond the
control of the school system and a result of poverty, language
barriers and troubled home life.
(Editing by Cynthia Johnston, Marguerita Choy and Eric Walsh)
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