SAN FRANCISCO – Nine students have filed an appeal with the California Supreme Court against the state of California over the quality of teachers in low-income schools.
Vergara v. California claims that the state’s statutes were biased against poor students because during school layoffs, teachers with more seniority are kept versus talented and capable teachers that are more likely assigned to low-income areas. The lawsuit challenges California statues that govern the due process in teacher dismissals, by claiming that it almost impossible to dismiss incompetent teachers in schools in poor areas. The plaintiffs allege that those laws are unconstitutional and hurt students.
The students’ initial filing of the lawsuit, named Vergara after one of the students, saw Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Rolf M. Treu side with the plaintiffs, saying there was evidence of the effect that grossly ineffective teachers have on students.
In April, the California 2nd District Court of Appeal overturned the decision, confirming California’s system for attracting and retaining quality teachers is within the limits of the state constitution.
The students then filed an appeal with the California Supreme Court with the help of Students Matter, an educational reform group that is funding the case. The court is still deciding whether to hear the appeal.
Opposing the appeal is the California Teachers Association (CTA).
“We’re vehemently opposed to the lawsuit," Frank Wells, a spokesman for CTA, told the Northern California Record. "We thought it was going after the wrong issues. It was based on very flawed educational policy theory. The judges' ruling ignored lots of evidence that these laws work quite well in well-run school districts. The problem isn’t the law. These laws don’t assign teachers to any specific school. The problem lies in some districts with administrators that don’t know what they’re doing or are poorly trained. They’re the ones that assign teachers to specific schools, not these laws."
CTA representatives have said the lawsuit highlights the wrong problems, proposes the wrong solutions and follows the wrong process. Members believe that this is an attempt to undermine the teaching profession and circumvent the legislative process, which would strip teachers of their due process.
“Administrators testified during the trial that they know within the first year if someone’s going to make it or if a little extra help will help them along or whether teaching is the wrong profession for them,” Wells said. “It doesn’t take four, five years to figure out if someone’s a competent teacher. In well run districts that have a good teacher support system that makes it clear to their administration that they expect them to be in the classroom observing and holding teachers accountable, in those districts the current laws work.
Wells doesn't expect the Supreme Court to rule in the students' favor.
“We are reasonably optimistic that the Supreme Court isn’t going to take it up and even if they do, they are going to stay with the appellate court," he said. "If the reversal stands and we have status quo, the legislative changes, which is where we think there should be changes, not in the court.”