Plaintiffs rest case in trial over teacher protection laws

Attorneys representing a group of students in a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of teacher job protections in California rested their case Thursday — prompting their opponents to ask a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge to dismiss the case for lack of evidence.

The lawsuit, filed by the nonprofit advocacy group Students Matter, contends that these education laws are a violation of the Constitution's equal protection guarantee because they do not ensure all students have access to an adequate education.

Vergara vs. California, filed on behalf of nine students and their families, seeks to revamp a dismissal process that the plaintiffs say is too costly and time consuming, lengthen the time for instructors to gain tenure and dismantle the "last hired, first fired" policies that fail to consider teacher effectiveness.

Attorneys representing the defendants — the state Department of Education and teachers' unions — are expected to file a motion Thursday requesting that Judge Rolf M. Treu dismiss the case because plaintiffs have failed to present strong enough evidence to make their case.

[Updated 5:18 p.m. Feb. 20: On Thursday afternoon, attorneys representing the defendants filed a motion for summary judgment asking that Treu dismiss the case because plaintiffs have failed to present strong enough evidence to make their case. ]

Jim Finberg, who represents the California Teachers Assn. and the California Federation of Teachers, said his opponents failed to prove that the laws themselves caused harm to the students.

“They’ve utterly and completely failed to do that,” he said.

At a news conference outside the courthouse, California Teachers Assn. President Dean Vogel said attorneys are trying to use the courts to unfairly blame teachers for the problems and challenges facing students and their schools.

“They are shockingly and completely silent on the issues that really matter — the dynamics of poverty, class size, adequate resources,” Vogel said. “Instead they seem to believe firing teachers for any arbitrary reasons will improve our schools.”

Speakers vigorously defended tenure, seniority and dismissal rules, calling them crucial safeguards and essential to recruiting and retaining quality instructors. The lawsuit, they contend, is misguided and ignores the true causes of problems in education, such as drops in state funding.

“Teachers are about quality, we expect it from our students and expect it from each other,” said Pasadena teacher Christine McLaughlin.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs, meanwhile, argue that laws far exceed reasonable job protections and create an environment in which ineffective teachers are immune to scrutiny and consequences for poor job performance. They contend that the laws themselves prevent administrators from removing ineffective teachers, thus lowering the quality of the teacher pool and contributing to an inadequate education for some students.

Theodore J. Boutrous Jr., who represents Students Matter, the nonprofit that brought the suit, said the lawyers have proved all of their claims.

“We support teachers — we want to protect teachers who are doing a great job,” he said. “We’re trying to persuade the courts — and we — that these statutes are bad for teachers, bad for student and bad for the public school system.”

The trial is in recess until March 4.


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