California teacher tenure law unconstitutional, judge says

A judge on Tuesday ruled California's tenure laws that protect public school teachers are unconstitutional.
A judge on Tuesday ruled California's tenure laws that protect public school teachers are unconstitutional.

The verdict is a win for nine students who sued the state saying that tenure policies have made it impossible for bad teachers to be fired.

Judge Rolf M. Treu said in the ruling for Vergara v. California that "both students and teachers are unfairly, unnecessarily, and for no legally cognizable reason (let alone a compelling one), disadvantaged by the current Permanent Employment Statute."

Theodore J. Boutrous Jr., a lawyer for the plaintiffs, called this a "monumental day" for the state's education system.

"By striking down these irrational laws, the Court has recognized that all students deserve a quality education. Today's ruling is a victory not only for our nine Plaintiffs; it is a victory for students, parents, and teachers across California," Boutrous said in a statement.

Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent John Deasy, who supported the change, also called it a historic day for California public schools. Deasy testified in court that in some cases it can take up to a decade to fire a bad teacher and cost upwards of $450,000 because teachers are so well protected by tenure laws.

"Today's decision is a call to action to begin implementing, without delay, the solutions that help address the problems highlighted by the Vergara trial. Every day that these laws remain in effect is an opportunity denied. It's unacceptable, and a violation of our education system's sacred pact with the public," Deasey said.

Lawyers for the teachers had objected to proposed changes, because they said it would allow the firing of teachers on a whim. They argued that the current system preserved academic freedom and helped attract talented teachers to a profession that doesn't pay well.

"We are clearly disappointed by the decision of this judge. We're disappointed, but not particularly surprised, given his comments during the trial," said Joshua Pechthalt, president of the California Federation of Teachers. "We believe the judge fell victim to the anti-union, anti-teacher rhetoric of one of America's finest corporate law firms."

The judge stayed the ruling pending appeals. The California Attorney General's office said it is considering its legal options, while the California Teachers Association, the state's biggest teachers union with 325,000 members, vowed an appeal.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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