A state bill to make it easier and faster to dismiss teachers for sexual misconduct stalled in a Senate subcommittee Wednesday.
That came as a surprise to supporters. Assembly Bill 357 was considered the most likely-to-succeed reform of California’s lengthy teacher dismissal process. Previous efforts to reform the process failed largely because the powerful teachers’ unions opposed them, but the group wasn’t an obstacle this time.
California Teachers Association Spokeswoman Patricia Rucker even testified in support of AB357 at a Senate Education Committee:
“This bill creates accountability both to investigate and to present a hearing in a timely, fair, efficient manner,” said Rucker.
But school administrators weren’t so happy. The bill set a 7-month deadline for dismissal hearings, which now can drag on for months or even years.
It allows for a one-time, one-month extension, but only if the administrative judge hearing the case finds there are extraordinary circumstances.
Brian Rivas, Senior Legislative Advocate of the California School Boards Association, told the committee that’s not enough time for many cases to be resolved and that he disliked the few options left to school districts if they couldn’t meet the deadline.
“Re-file and possibly ask children—and I know this is a horrible thing to think about--re-live abuse in testimony, settle, or put the teacher back on staff,” said Rivas.
L-A Unified’s Director of Government Relations, Edgar Zazueta, said the district would support the legislation if it were amended to give administrative law judges more discretion to extend the length of dismissal hearings.
“We just think if you’ve gone that far, just finish it, regardless of how long it takes,” Zazueta said.
But the bill’s author, Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan (D-San Ramon) says the firm deadline was the whole point of the bill.
“We don’t want to have a situation where you extend the hearing one day next week, one day the following week, another day 2 or 3 months out--because we don’t believe that’s in the interest of justice.”
Just like that, what had looked like a compromise on teacher dismissals failed to get enough votes to pass.
The Chair of the Senate Education Committee, Carol Liu (D-Pasadena) refused to vote for the plan, as did five other members.
But AB357 could still rally. The committee granted reconsideration that lets the author amend the bill and put it up for another vote next month.