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Lawsuit against teacher tenure laws, seniority rights advances

November 9, 2012 |  6:30 pm

Supporters of a lawsuit to make it easier to remove ineffective teachers hailed a court ruling Friday that will allow them to proceed with efforts to overturn teacher tenure laws and seniority rights.

Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Rolf M. Treu rejected efforts to dismiss the lawsuit that seeks to overturn five state laws. They allow teachers to gain tenure after 18 months, require layoffs to be determined by seniority and force school districts to undergo a long and expensive process to dismiss incompetent instructors.  The parents are arguing that the laws violate their children’s constitutional right to an equal education.

“This is a significant first step for this lawsuit, which could change the face of education in California,” said Theodore J. Boutrous, an attorney representing eight parents in Los Angeles, Oakland and San Jose. “This is about making sure that everyone has a fair shot and equal opportunity to education.”

Jose Macias, one of the plaintiffs, said the lawsuit would help other children avoid what he said was a devastating experience for his daughter in an unidentified school in the Los Angeles Unified School District. Macias said his daughter, Julia, had lost her self-esteem and her desire to attend school after being told by her second-grade teacher that she was not good at math and needed a special education program. She is now a high-performing seventh-grader, he said.

“No child in the state of California deserves to go through that,” Macias said. “This lawsuit will help prevent situations like my daughter’s.”

In issuing his ruling Friday, Treu rejected arguments by the state attorney general’s office that the lawsuit should be dismissed because, among other things, there is no constitutional right to a quality education. Jonathan Rich, an attorney representing Gov. Jerry Brown, state Supt. of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson and the state education department, argued that court rulings have found only that the Constitution guarantees equal funding, not equally effective instructors.

The Alum Rock Union School District also sought dismissal of the lawsuit.

The Los Angeles and Oakland unified school districts did not seek to have the lawsuit thrown out.  L.A. Supt. John Deasy has expressed support for some of the lawsuit’s goals, including speeding the dismissal process and ending what he has called the “burdensome last-hired, first-fired rule.”

Jonathan Moss, a teacher in the Compton Unified School District who appeared at the court hearing Friday, expressed support for changing seniority-based layoff rules. The 27-year-old teacher said he had started an after-school fitness program, coached sports, brought students on weekend field trips and helped his fourth-graders achieve the highest test scores at their grade level  during three years at McNair Elementary School. Yet, he said, he got pink slips every year he was there.

Moss, now a Compton district substitute teacher,  said he is thinking of leaving teaching because of the frustration over constant layoffs.

"I pay my union dues but I’m not part of the union because I feel they’re protecting bad teachers,” he said.

Treu set the next court date for Feb. 22.

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--Teresa Watanabe

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