Appellate Courts

Howard Blume , Joy Resmovits and Sonali Kohli
APril 14, 2016

In a major victory for unions, a California appeals court on Thursday reversed a lower court ruling that had thrown out tenure and other job protections for the state’s public school teachers.

The case was being closely watched across the country by those who argue that allowing administrators to more easily fire bad teachers would improve schools and student performance. Right now, there are a series of job protections that can be invoked before school districts can remove a tenured teacher.

“I think it’s a win certainly for educators, but also a win for students,” California Teachers Assn. President Eric C. Heins said of the ruling. “The trial never made the connection between the harms [the plaintiffs] were alleging and the statutes they were challenging. I think the laws have been working.”

The teachers association was a defendant in the case, along with the California Federation of Teachers and top state officials.

Lawyers representing the plaintiffs, a diverse group of nine students, vowed Thursday to file an appeal with the state Supreme Court.

“We came to court to defend the rights of California’s public school students and will continue to do so, despite today’s temporary setback,” lead counsel Theodore J. Boutrous Jr. said.

The appellate court decision overturned the 2014 ruling in Vergara vs. California, which held that several key job protections for teachers were so harmful that they deprived students of their constitutional right to an education.

In that case, L.A. County Superior Court Judge Rolf Treu had sided with the plaintiffs, saying the tenure system resulted in educational malpractice that “shocks the conscience.”

The effect of the rules, he said, was to allow ineffective teachers to keep their jobs and subject students — especially poor and minority ones — to inferior schooling that could stunt their futures.

Treu stayed his ruling pending appeal; the three-judge appellate panel in Los Angeles saw the evidence and the law differently in a unanimous opinion.

“Plaintiffs failed to show that the statutes themselves make any certain group of students more likely to be taught by ineffective teachers than any other group of students,” Division Two Presiding Justice Roger W. Boren wrote. “The court’s job is merely to determine whether the statutes are constitutional, not if they are ‘a good idea.’”

To read expanded article, click here.