The lawsuit, opposed by teacher unions, claims that five state
laws governing the hiring, firing and layoff of teachers have in
effect discriminated against underprivileged children in
kindergarten through 12th grade by denying them equal educational
"These five statutes are violating the rights of California public
school students each and every day," plaintiffs' attorney Theodore
Boutrous said in court on Tuesday. "They inevitably put and keep
grossly ineffective teachers in the classroom in front of students."
The lawsuit, if successful, is seen by some education reform
advocates as opening a new front in the battle over how best to
improve a U.S. public school system that critics say is failing too
many children, especially in low-income and urban districts.
The suit was filed on behalf of nine California students in 2012 by
the education advocacy group Students Matter and went to a non-jury
trial in January before a Los Angeles Superior Court judge. It is
being handled by the same law firm that spearheaded the landmark
case that succeeded in overturning California's voter-approved ban
on gay marriage, Proposition 8.
Among the laws targeted by the lawsuit is one that requires school
districts to either grant or deny tenure to teachers 18 months after
they are hired, which plaintiffs say leads administrators to give
permanent employment status to potentially problematic teachers too
The suit also challenges three laws it says make it difficult to
fire low-performing tenured instructors by requiring years of
documentation, dozens of procedural steps and significant amounts of
public funds before dismissal.
LAST-IN, FIRST-OUT POLICY
The plaintiffs also seek to abolish the so-called "last-in, first
out" statute, which requires administrators to lay off teachers
based on reverse seniority.
After four weeks of testimony presented by the plaintiffs, lawyers
for the state and the teachers unions filed motions seeking
dismissal of the lawsuit, asserting that attorneys for the students
had failed to prove their case.
They argued that the plaintiffs did not meet the legal standards for
showing the statutes were so flawed as to be found unconstitutional
and struck down by a court. The ill effects cited by the plaintiffs
were anecdotal, isolated and the result of poor management
decisions, the defendants said.
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"The occasional and random assignment of a student to a bad teacher
does not" meet the test for an equal protection case, Deputy
Attorney General Nimrod Elias told Judge Rolf Treu.
James Finberg, representing the California Teachers Association and
California Federation of Teachers, said the plaintiffs had failed to
establish that the laws in question had caused any harm.
"The statutes don't assign teachers. Districts and principals assign
teachers," he said. "The reality of students being in inner-city
schools is not caused by these statutes."
The state and teachers union further argued that the laws give
school administrators adequate discretion to make employment
decisions that as a whole have succeeded in attracting and retaining
At the end of the hour-long hearing, however, the judge sided with
the plaintiffs in ordering the trial to continue.
"The court finds there is sufficient evidence, credible evidence to
move forward with the trial to allow the interveners and defendants
to present their evidence, and we're anxious to hear from them on
those issues that have been raised," Treu said.
The defendants are to resume their case on Wednesday.
(Writing and additional reporting by Steve Gorman;
Cynthia Johnston and Jan Paschal)
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