AirTalk for May 16, 2012

Lawsuit seeks to overturn job protection for teachers

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Are teacher protections a bust for students?

Laws protecting teacher tenure rules in California are being challenged in the courts. Students Matter - a new nonprofit that describes itself as an organization "committed to ensuring that all of California's children receive a quality education" - filed a lawsuit in the Los Angeles County Superior Court on Monday.

“We have five outdated statutes that are on the books that handcuffs school administrators,” Theodore Boutrous Jr., Legal Counsel for Students Matter, said. “These laws preclude the schools from acting in the best interest of children.”

The complaint questions the constitutionality of those five statutes that protect teacher seniority, layoffs and govern the dismissal process. The group says the laws are "outdated and harmful". Students Matter is representing eight California based students ranging in age from seven to fifteen.

Boutrous added that LAUSD has paid 3.5 million between the years of 2000 and 2010 to fire four teachers who have committed criminal acts of misconduct.

“It's like WWIII litigation. It can go all the way to the appellate court, simply to get rid of a teacher that everyone would agree is awful,” he continued.

LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy supports the lawsuit, saying that using seniority to deal with teacher firings is unfair both to teachers and students.

“At the end of the day, you must use seniority, and seniority is the sole indicator, and I've been very clear on the fact that I think it's disrespectful and completely unfair. I am just prohibited from taking into account how a teacher does their job, what contributions they're making to the school, the students the community, what duties they do,” he explained.

Deasy also noted that children who live in poorer communities are at a disadvantage. “In schools where there are the greatest concentrations of youth who live in greater circumstances of poverty, you tend, and it's been documented quite clearly, to have the greatest concentration of least senior teachers. When you have to displace teachers by seniority, a far greater number of teachers are then moved out based on their seniority number in schools with the poorest communities,” he said.

Rosemary Ward, attorney who represents teachers in dismissal cases, said that the terms of the lawsuit would give administrators too much power.

“[Boutrous’] suggestion would be to give more power to the administrators to basically review these people in a shortcut fashion to decide whether or not they're going to get tenure. … Many administrators are not there and are biased, and we all take every effort possible to shortcut the rights afforded by the constitution,” she said.

According to Boutrous, there are plenty of public sector laws, such as due process, that protect teacher rights. “It really is not correct to suggest that it's these unique laws, which create this arbitrary system where the worst teacher in the world can't get fired, stays there forever, can get tenure after a very short period of time, and injure children’s lives by not teaching them effectively, [is protecting teachers],” he said.

Ward maintains that everyone in the district must work together. “We all need to take a deep breathe and realize here – it is a collaborative effort. To be successful, it's got to be a united effort amongst the teachers, parents, administrators and the students. If the teachers are not backed, you are putting any teacher, even the best of teachers, into an impossible situation.”

What benefits could there be to challenging teacher protections? Does a case of this nature detract from the quality of education students receive? If you’re a teacher, what are your thoughts on this case?

Guests:

John Deasy, Superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School district

Theodore Boutrous Jr., Legal Counsel for Students Matter from Gibson, Dunn and Crutcher

Rosemary Ward, Attorney who represents teachers in dismissal cases


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