New York, NY – In a victory for unions nationwide, the California Court of Appeal on April 14 reversed a lower court decision that had thrown out tenure and seniority rights for the state’s public school teachers. The appeals court ruled that the state’s teacher tenure and seniority laws do not violate black and Latino students’ rights to an equal education under the state’s constitution.
“The plaintiffs’ attack on teacher due-process protections was and is a partisan political crusade masquerading as a court case,” said UFT President Michael Mulgrew. The appeal court’s decision is “a clear demonstration of the weakness of the Vergara case.”
A similar lawsuit was filed in New York in 2014 after plaintiffs in the California case won at the lower court level. The New York lawsuit, known as Davids/Wright, is now before the New York State Appellate Division. It charges that teacher tenure deprives New York children of a sound, basic education, as guaranteed by the state constitution.
“Since the Davids/Wright plaintiffs cited the original Vergara decision as part of their case, we will point out to the Appellate Division that one of the foundations of the Davids/Wright litigation has now evaporated,’’ Mulgrew said.
The decision in Vergara v. California was a setback for Wall Street-backed interest groups intent on privatizing public education and curtailing public school educators’ rights. A Silicon Valley nonprofit called Students Matter, founded by millionaire entrepreneur Dave Welch, brought the California lawsuit on behalf of nine schoolchildren and their families in May 2012. The Vergara plaintiffs argued that five statutes of California’s education code detailing legal protections for teachers, including tenure, made it difficult to fire incompetent educators who they contended are primarily concentrated in low-income schools serving minority students. In 2014, a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge ruled that the statutes were unconstitutional.
The lower court judge ordered the state to stop enforcing its tenure, dismissal and layoff laws but stayed his orders pending appeals. In the April 14 ruling, the three-judge appellate court panel said that these statutes did not discriminate against minority students and school districts, not these laws, determine the assignment of teachers.
The head of the California teachers’ union applauded the decision. “I consider this a victory for teachers and a victory for students,” Eric C. Heins, the president of the California Teachers Association, told the Los Angeles Times. These statues “bring stability to the system, and for many students they bring stability to their schools and to the teachers in their schools’
California Federation of Teachers President Joshua Pechthalt had called the original lawsuit “fundamentally anti-public education, scapegoating teachers for problems originating in underfunding, poverty and economic inequality.”
The Vergara plaintiffs said they would appeal to the California Supreme Court, while plaintiffs in New York and in another similar case in Minnesota vowed to press on with their lawsuits.