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California state Republican lawmakers unveil plan to speed up teacher dismissals

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California state Senate and Assembly Republicans unveiled legislation today to expedite the dismissal of educators who engage in criminal behavior in response to the flurry of reported sex-abuse cases in L.A. Unified schools over the last months.

The proposed reforms, which will be introduced as legislation this week, are based on a "Top Ten" recommended reforms list produced by L.A. Unified officials and a letter from Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, according to a release.

The legislators specifically refer to the case of former Miramonte Elementary School teacher Mark Berndt, arrested and charged with 23 lewd acts upon a child, and subsequent reports on sex-abuse throughout the district, as the impetus for their proposals to change the state Education Code.

"Public schools are supposed to be havens for safe learning, not a proving ground for sexual predators," said Senate Republican Leader Bob Huff, of Diamond Bar, in a statement. "The recent arrest of two Miramonte Elementary teachers for lewd acts against their students shows that we must change the law to protect our kids. That’s why Republicans are standing with Mayor Villaraigosa and Los Angeles Unified to enact reforms to empower local districts and ensure that a Miramonte-like tragedy never happens again."

Proposed reforms:

  • Prohibit bargaining agreements in union contracts from "restricting the maintenance of records" or use of prior evidence of allegations in new investigations.
  • Allow evidence of past charges of wrongdoing be held in files longer than four years.
  • Eliminate notice requirements for teachers who are being dismissed, allow suspension or dismissal notices in the summer.
  • Do away with the three-person panel review and have an administrative law judge alone conduct the review; make ruling advisory to "empower" school boards. ("Due to the cost and heavy burden of pursuing such cases, only 110 dismissal hearings were held statewide between 2003 and 2010, resulting in just 68 terminations," according to the release.)
  • Allow districts to dismiss teachers for disciplinary reasons with no pay after an administrative hearing; the teacher would receive back pay if their appeal is successful.
  • Require districts to transfer teachers out of the classroom if there is "reasonable cause" to believe they are under investigation by law enforcement. "Teachers would not be allowed to return to the classroom until the school district reviewed the case and created a paper trailk" the release states."
  • Strip pension and retiree benefits from teachers convicted of a felony related to their job.

The legislators announced their plan hours before the L.A. Unified school board will vote on two resolutions that aim to beef up the employee discipline process, one of which calls on the legislature to make changes to the state's Education Code on how it deals with credentialed employee dismissals.

The resolution is very similar to one approved by the board in 2009 that recommended changes to the state's Education Code, also co-sponsored by Galatzan, but no legislation was pursued at the time.

A UTLA spokeswoman could not be immediately reached for comment.

Tami Abdollah can be reached via email and on Twitter (@latams).

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