California Judge Rules Teacher Tenure Unconstitutional

by Tim Cavanaugh

A judge in Los Angeles ruled Tuesday that public school teacher tenure rules are unconstitutional, a stunning reversal that could pave the way for broad changes to public education monopolies all over the country.

In a case brought by nine students in the Los Angeles Unified School District, L.A. County Superior Court Judge Rolf M. Treu ruled 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.”

The case, Vergara v. California, argued that by blocking the firing of bad teachers, tenure denied L.A. students their constitutional right to a quality education. The suit was organized by the Silicon Valley reform group Students Matter on behalf of 10th grader Beatriz Vergara and eight other students. The defendants included Governor Jerry Brown, Superintendent of Public Education Tom Torlakson, and the behemoth teacher unions California Teachers Association (CTA) and the California Federation of Teachers (CFT). The defendants tried three times to dismiss the suit.

Treu’s ruling is preliminary, but if it’s upheld it could pave the way for similar changes in California and possibly throughout the United States.

Among the witnesses for the plaintiffs were L.A. Unified Superintendent John Deasy, who has been trying to reform the district for several years.

“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,” said Tuesday.

“With today’s rulings we can rectify a catastrophe,” Deasy added during a press call after the ruling. He spoke of capitalizing on the Vergara ruling to institute further reforms to the state’s notoriously dysfunctional public school system.

That sentiment has been echoed by other reformers. “The law was on our side and the evidence was overwhelming,” Marcellus McRae, the trial attorney for the plaintiffs, told the Los Angeles Times. “Whatever happens, we can’t go backward. The time of defending the status quo and business as usual — those days are over. We have to re-create a system that focuses on placing children’s interests at the forefront.”

In a post-ruling press call, McRae, said “Quality education is not a privilege limited to a few. It is a right that must be extended to every student in California.”

Parties to the case have 15 days to file objections to the ruling, and CTA has vowed to appeal. But McRae urged the unions to “lay down their swords.”

“The evidence at this trial was overwhelming, the ruling unequivocal” McRae said, “We need to move forward on a system that no longer places the burden of apathy on the backs of our most vulnerable students. We have a defining moment today in California.”

Ted Boutros, who represented the students, said laws establishing permanent teacher employment should be allowed to wither away. “We’d be in a brighter world today if those laws don’t exist,” Boutros said in press conference.

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