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Far-reaching Vergara decision headed for appeals court

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Officials are challenging the Vergara v. California ruling that struck down key job protections for state public school teachers.

“Changes of this magnitude, as a matter of law and policy, require appellate review,” wrote State Attorney General Kamala Harris and two deputy attorney generals in the appeal filed on Friday in L.A. County Superior Court.

The June ruling struck down California laws that give public school teachers wide job security after two years, carry out layoffs based on teacher seniority not effectiveness, and grant teachers more job protections than other public sector employees. Lawyers for nine public school student-plaintiffs argued in court that the laws allowed grossly ineffective teachers to keep their jobs and deprived some students of their constitutional right to an adequate education.

The appeal filed Friday was expected but not welcomed by the education activists who filed the Vergara lawsuit in 2012.

“These laws are indefensible and violate California students’ fundamental right to an equal education. We are disappointed that the State has chosen to ignore these facts,” said the group Students Matter in a release after the appeal was filed.

The June ruling by Judge Rolf Treu struck down the teacher job laws as unconstitutional, but did not compel policymakers to immediately delete them and devise new measures until after a ruling by an appeals court.

The elected head of California’s Department of Education, Tom Torlakson, welcomed the appeal. He said the lawsuit blames teachers for the “failings” of the state’s six million-student public education system.

In a written statement, Torlakson said “the Court’s ruling is not supported by the facts or the law. Its vagueness provides no guidance about how the Legislature could successfully alter the challenged statutes to satisfy the Court.”

Lawyers filed their appeal two days after Judge Treu issued a final ruling in the Vergara trial. After his tentative ruling, defense lawyers asked Treu to explain what legal reasoning he used and how the facts in the three-month trial led him to side with the plaintiffs.

Putting the tentative and final rulings side by side, each 16 pages long, it's difficult to see any major changes, besides the dates they were filed. Treu left “TENTATIVE DECISION” at the bottom of each page in the document filed as his final ruling.

Lawyers representing California’s two top teachers unions plan to file a companion request for appeal this week. The voluminous transcript of the trial will then be compiled and sent to the California court of appeals, which could hear the case in about a year.

In its statement, Students Matter said the group underlined its commitment to improving public education by doing away with California’s teacher job protections.

“We look forward to vigorously defending our victory at the appellate level and continuing to fight to ensure that our education system serves the best interest of our students,” the group said.

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