Lawsuit targets teacher tenure in California


The case has been ongoing for the last two months. Final summations were heard on Thursday.

Backed by a Silicon Valley millionaire turned education activist, nine students claim that they are among thousands who are denied equal opportunity because California statutes keep bad teachers from being fired.

"Right now we are kids and we can't do this alone. We need good teachers in schools to help us," said high school junior Elizabeth Vergara, one of the plaintiffs.

Labor unions for teachers are defending the laws. They say it is underfunded schools that hurt students.

"Those students have seen their libraries closed, have seen nursing staff completely gutted, have seen their arts programs gone," said kindergarten teacher Erika Jones.

The lawsuit targets teacher tenure, claiming their probationary period is too short.

"Just because you have a license, doesn't mean you can win the Indy 500. Just because you have a credential, doesn't mean you are an effective teacher. That argument is done," said plaintiffs' attorney Marcellus McRae.

Yet the defense says probation time is ample, and that striking down the statutes would make teachers vulnerable to the whims of administrators and petty politics.

"Those statutes help school districts recruit and retain qualified persons who have other job options," said Jim Finberg, defense attorney for teachers.

Another complaint from the group Students Matter is that when budget cuts force layoffs, the first chopped are often the energetic, newly hired instructors.

Furthermore, they complain that the process of dismissing grossly ineffective teachers is too costly and time-consuming, and that often they are transferred.

"But guess what? They don't leave the education system," said McRae. "They gotta go someplace, and you know where they go? They go to poor and minority schools because they are high-need and there are more vacancies."

The defense says they key is not striking down statutes, but support for a strong teacher evaluation system.

"So that teachers are getting clarity about what they are expected to do and feedback about how they're doing," said Deputy California Attorney General Susan Carson.

Opposing attorneys have until April 10 to get all their briefs and paperwork to the judge. The judge will then begin deliberation.

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