Lawmaker revives bill to ease firing of teachers in sex abuse cases

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A California lawmaker has revived legislation to speed the dismissal process for teachers who sexually abuse students.

The proposal, prompted by the the sexual abuse scandal at Miramonte Elementary School in Los Angeles, died in committee last session after the state’s powerful teachers unions declared it an assault on due process rights.


State Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima) reintroduced the bill last week, saying the need for his legislation was bolstered by a recent state audit that found the state’s lengthy dismissal process contributes to districts ‘entering into settlement agreements rather than continuing with attempts to dismiss the employees.’

Last year, the L.A. Unified School District chose to pay $40,000 to Mark Berndt, the former Miramonte teacher charged with 23 counts of lewd acts on children, to retire rather than take him through the dismissal process. (Berndt has pleaded not guilty to the charges.)

The bill, SB 10, would expedite the dismissal process for teachers who engage in ‘serious or egregious unprofessional conduct’: offenses involving sex, drugs or violence.

In testifying before the Assembly Education Committee last session, Padilla said his proposal would have affected only ‘the very, very few who abuse the trust we’ve given them.’

‘This bill is not about dismissing a teacher if the lesson plan is not ready or they’ve shown up tardy too many times,’ Padilla testified.

The California Teachers Assn. objected that the bill would have given school boards, rather than an administrative judge and two educators, final authority over dismissals.

‘If you take teacher dismissal and you make it a political process, you will be undermining the basic tenets of the system we’ve had for 40 years and that has worked for 40 years,’ said Warren Fletcher, president of United Teachers Los Angeles, CTA’s largest affiliate.


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--Michael J. Mishak in Sacramento