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Teacher Tenure Tested in California

PHOTO: Fifth grade teacher Gaby Ibarra at a recent news conference. The defense is now calling witnesses in a lawsuit that's putting California teacher employment laws to the test. Photo credit: CFT.
PHOTO: Fifth grade teacher Gaby Ibarra at a recent news conference. The defense is now calling witnesses in a lawsuit that's putting California teacher employment laws to the test. Photo credit: CFT.
March 12, 2014

LOS ANGELES - The defense is calling witnesses in a lawsuit that's putting California teacher employment laws to the test.

Vergara vs. California claims the state's laws regarding teacher tenure, layoffs and dismissals protect so-called "bad" teachers. However, fifth-grade teacher Gaby Ibarra said without those employment laws, she and others would work in fear that they may be fired for no reason. She said stripping teachers of their rights will harm, not improve, student learning.

"We definitely don't want to keep ineffective teachers," she said. "We as teachers don't want to work with other teachers that are not following the law - so, if they're not following the rules, then there are consequences."

Attorneys for the state say the laws provide due process when a teacher is accused of misconduct or poor performance, and objectivity in times of layoff. They maintain these protections help districts attract and retain quality teachers.

Joshua Pechthalt, president of the California Federation of Teachers, said the lawsuit ignores the real problems of public education.

"Funding, resources - what are the conditions in communities that make it possible for kids to learn, difficult for kids to learn?" So, questions of poverty and things like that, if we're not talking about those issues, then we're really not getting at the central issues that shape public education."

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of a handful of California students who claimed laws on tenure, dismissal and layoffs by seniority protect the worst teachers. The suit is funded by a Silicon Valley entrepreneur and other wealthy businessmen, whom the California Federation of Teachers describes as "anti-union, rather than pro-public education."

Lori Abbott, Public News Service - CA