Pass / Fail | So Cal education, LAUSD, the Cal States and the UCs

Bill would make it easier to dismiss teachers for 'serious and egregious misconduct'

A bill that would make it easier to fire teachers accused of
A bill that would make it easier to fire teachers accused of "serious and egregious misconduct" passed out of the California Senate Education Committee. Miramonte Elementary School teacher Mark Berndt (above in 2003), charged with 23 charges of lewd conduct on children, was cited as one example of a case this would have helped expedite.
Flor Cervantes/AP

A California Senate bill that will make it easier to dismiss a teacher accused of "serious and egregious misconduct" with students has cleared its first hurdle, passing out of the Education Committee with several new amendments.

SB1530, sponsored by Democratic state Sen. Alex Padilla of Pacoima, would give school boards the last word in firing teachers accused of "serious and egregious misconduct" — offenses of sex, drugs and violence against children — making what was decided by a three-person panel called the Commission on Professional Competence an "advisory" decision by an administrative law judge. Evidence more than four years old could be used in the investigation and during proceedings for such misconduct crimes.

The bill as originally written was strongly opposed by the California Teachers Association. Padilla said he worked with CTA officials and members of the Committee to come up with several amendments he proposed today. Those include creating a new charge of "serious and egregious misconduct" under which immediate suspension would be allowed.

Other amendments include reinstating the 45-day notification period for other unprofessional conduct, and clarification that the three-personal panel would continue to be used on other, non-egregious misconduct charges. The teacher would also be given an opportunity to present their written or oral case to the school board before a final determination.

"SB 1530 carefully and narrowly modifies the dismissal process in cases of sex, violence and drugs," Padilla said in a statement. "It would empower school boards to act decisively to protect children while maintaining important due process rights."

Officials pointed to the case of Miramonte Elementary School teacher Mark Berndt, charged with 23 charges of lewd conduct on children, as one example of a case where the appeal process dragged on for months and the Los Angeles Unified School District ended up paying $40,000 to settle the dismissal and get him out of the classroom.

California Teachers Assn. official testified against two misconduct bills heard by the committee today. CTA spokesman Mike Myslinski declined to comment. A post on the CTA blog provided more details on their opposition.

L.A. Unified Superintendent John Deasy testified in support of the bill and has said the state is "long overdue" for a revamp of its laws governing teacher dismissal.

"I will refer to this piece of legislation as 'the about time adjustment legislation,'" said Deasy to the legislators today, according to a quote on the district's Facebook page. "For in the opinion of countless parents, public citizens, and our youth it is about time to make adjustments in how we handle the dismissal of employees who commit grievous acts on children, while continuing our history of strong protections for the vast majority of amazing teachers and administrators who serve our youth."

This story has been updated.

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