State Supreme Court Allows Teacher Tenure to Stand

Tuesday, August 23, 2016
Credit: Getty Images

By Matt Reynolds, Courthouse News Service

LOS ANGELES — The California Supreme Court handed teacher unions a major victory on Monday by refusing to review an appeals court finding that the Golden State’s teacher-tenure laws do not violate students’ rights.

In a 2014 ruling that shook teacher unions, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Rolf Treu ruled that five statutes in California’s education code were unconstitutional, because they harm poor and minority students and reward bad teachers.

Earlier this year, a three-judge panel of the Second Appellate District reversed, ruling that the statutes at issue do not violate equal-protection laws under the California Constitution.

Beatriz Vergara and eight other students had appealed the ruling to the California Supreme Court, which on Monday denied (pdf) her petition for review.

Justices Ming Chin, Goodwin Liu and Mariano-Florentino Cuellar dissented, arguing the petition should have been granted.

In his dissent, Liu said that the appellate panel had “likely erred” in finding that one of the student groups lacked standing to bring equal-protection claims because they lacked pertinent common characteristics other than being harmed by the education code.

“There is considerable evidence in the record to support the trial court’s conclusion that the hiring and retention of a substantial number of grossly ineffective teachers in California public schools have an appreciable impact on students’ fundamental right to education,” Liu wrote.

Cuellar used his dissent to chastise his colleagues for refusing to hear the case.

“Beatriz Vergara and her fellow plaintiffs raise profound questions with implications for millions of students across California. They deserve an answer from this court,” Cuellar wrote. “Difficult as it is to embrace the logic of the appellate court on this issue, it is even more difficult to allow that court’s decision to stay on the books without review in a case of enormous statewide importance.”

The nonprofit Students Matter had brought Vergara v. The State of California to the courts. The group said that it would continue its fight at the California Legislature.

“The issues at the heart of #Vergara are not going away,” the group said on Twitter. “#CASupremeCourt’s decision falls short of the change CA students & teachers deserve.”    

California Federation of Teachers president Joshua Pechthalt applauded the high court’s decision to stay out of the fight.

“The teacher shortage facing California has been stoked by the Vergara case, the expensive publicity machine surrounding it, and the constant attacks by so-called reformers on teachers and public education,” Pechthalt said in a prepared statement.

Pechthalt said that his union can now focus attention on the “actual problems we confront in our schools,” including overcrowded classrooms, to create a “more positive climate to address the teacher shortage crisis, bring young people to teaching and encourage experienced teachers to stay in the classroom.”


To Learn More:

California Appeals Court Overturns Historic 2014 Ruling on Teacher Tenure (by Matt Reynolds, Courthouse News Service)

County Judge Obliterates California Tenure Law and Other Protections for Teachers (by Ken Broder, AllGov California)

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