State Supreme Court upholds teacher tenure

The California Supreme Court Monday upheld the state’s laws on public-school teacher tenure after a lower court initially found them to be unconstitutional.

The state’s high court denied a petition for review of a three-judge Court of Appeal panel’s decision in April to overturn the 2014 ruling by a trial judge in Los Angeles that the laws on teacher tenure, dismissal and seniority were unconstitutional.

The five laws challenged in the case were a statute that gives teachers permanent tenure after two years, three that provide procedural protections to teachers whom school districts are seeking to dismiss for incompetence, and one requiring layoffs to be in the order of least seniority.

The appeals court had said attorneys for the nine students who challenged the laws hadn’t proved that the laws themselves, as opposed to other factors, caused any particularly group of students to receive incompetent teachers or violated the constitutional right to equal treatment.

The appeals court’s ruling said ultimately it was school district administrators, not the statutes, that determined where teachers were assigned.

The ruling overturned a decision by Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Rold Treu, who wrote that the laws had a “real and appreciable impact on students’ right to an equal education” and disproportionately affected low-income and minority students.

The nine students’ lawsuit, Vergara v. State of California was filed against state officials in 2012. It was sponsored by the Menlo Park-based group Students Matter, founded by Silicon Valley entrepreneur David Welch.

The group wrote on Twitter following today’s state Supreme Court decision:

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

The Burlingame-based California Teachers Association and Burbank-based California Federation of Teachers were allowed to join the case as parties defending the laws, which the unions said encourage veteran teachers to stay in the profession and young people to join it.

Two state Supreme Court judges wrote dissenting statements against the seven-judge court’s decision to deny the petition for review.

Justice Goodwin Liu wrote:

“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 … We owe the plaintiffs in this case, as well as schoolchildren throughout California, our transparent and reasoned judgment on whether the challenged statutes deprive a significant subset of students of their fundamental right to education and violate the constitutional guarantee of equal protection of the laws.”