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Historic Victory for Students in Vergara v. California

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SOURCE Students Matter

Court Strikes Down Five Provisions Of The California Education Code As Unconstitutional

Trial Court: "The Evidence is Compelling. Indeed, it Shocks the Conscience."

LOS ANGELES, June 10, 2014 /PRNewswire/ -- Today, the California Superior Court for the County of Los Angeles issued an historic decision in Vergara v. California, striking down five harmful provisions of the California Education Code as unconstitutional.  According to the Court, the laws in question-laws that govern teacher tenure, dismissal, and layoffs-impose substantial harm on California's students by forcing administrators to push passionate, inspiring teachers out of the school system and keep grossly ineffective teachers in front of students year after year.

Students Matter - Defending Students' Rights Through Impact Litigation.

In the 16-page ruling, the Honorable Judge Rolf M. Treu found:

"Plaintiffs have met their burden of proof on all issues presented."

"The evidence is compelling. Indeed, it shocks the conscience... There is also no dispute that there are a significant number of grossly ineffective teachers currently active in California classrooms."   

"This court finds 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."

"All Challenged Statues are found unconstitutional."

The Court ordered a stay on the decision, pending appeal.  

"This is a monumental day for California's public education system," said Plaintiffs' lead co-counsel, Theodore J.  Boutrous Jr.  "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."

Reacting to the decision, Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent John Deasy said:  "This is a truly historic day for our education system.  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."

During trial, Superintendent Deasy, along with former Superintendents Dr. Anthony Smith (Oakland Unified School District), Jonathan Raymond (Sacramento City Unified School District), as well as principals, teachers and other education and policy experts, testified that California's current education system places public school students at risk of severe harm, especially California's poor and minority students.

Further underscoring the importance of the decision, Plaintiffs' lead co-counsel Marcellus A. McRae explained:  "The Court has reaffirmed the fundamental principle that constitutional rights do not depend on a child's skin color or zip code.  They apply to everyone equally."  Mr. McRae further added:  "The Court's well-reasoned decision goes to the heart of the evidence and is an unmistakable victory for students, parents, teachers, and the teaching profession."

The Court's decision caps more than two years of litigation, including multiple attempts by Defendants-including the state of California and two of the state's largest teacher's unions-to see the case dismissed.  Over the course of the two-year period, opponents also attempted to moot the case via incremental legislative changes to the law through the failed bill, AB 375.

During trial, Plaintiffs presented overwhelming evidence that California's statutes dealing with teacher dismissal and permanent employment impose a real harm on students and their fundamental right to equality in education.  The evidence demonstrated that:

  • Permanent employment is granted in far too little time, resulting in grossly ineffective teachers attaining lifetime job protections;
  • The dismissal statutes are far too costly and time consuming, forcing districts to remain stuck with grossly ineffective teachers; and
  • The quality-blind layoffs resulting from the "Last-in, First-out" (LIFO) statute force districts to fire top teachers and retain ineffective ones.

Importantly, the trial showed that these statutes harm both students and teachers, and that they serve no necessary purpose.

"This ruling means that kids like me will have a real chance to get a great education and succeed in life," said Plaintiff, and rising high school freshman, Julia Macias.  "With this case, we have shown that students have a voice and can demand change when we stand together. I am incredibly thankful to the judge for giving me and my fellow Plaintiffs the opportunity to present our case."

Students Matter, a national education non-profit organization, helped the Plaintiffs to file Vergara v. California in May 2012.  In response to today's decision, the organization's founder, Dave Welch, said:  "I believe in public education. I believe in – and have experienced – the power of a great teacher. And I believe in the children of our state. But I also believe our public education system is failing our children because it has stopped putting their needs and their success above all else. This case was designed to change that – to ask, how do the rules that govern our education system advance the best interests of California's children? Today we have our answer – and we've been challenged to do better."

"While the nation's attention is fixed on California's education system, I challenge our opponents to join together with all stakeholders to offer real solutions for our education system.  Do away with the playbook of delay and stop proposing ideas that fall short of what we heard at trial is needed, and let's do what's right for our kids," added Welch.  

In the coming months, Students Matter will be convening education, policy and community leaders to talk about how we ensure that today's affirmation of students' rights translates into meaningful policy change, so students, teachers and administrators benefit at the classroom level.  The organization will gather information from around the country-and from districts within California-that are operating successfully without the burdens of these laws, including states, districts and schools that have lengthened or eliminated the time to tenure, changed or eliminated their LIFO laws, or streamlined the dismissal process.  Students Matter also plans to work with forward-thinking legislators in Sacramento to host information sessions for lawmakers to learn about the case and the facts presented during trial, so that new policies regarding teachers and students will be based on research and common sense.

Plaintiffs' legal team is led by Theodore J. Boutrous, Jr., who recently litigated Hollingsworth v. Perry, the successful challenge to California's ban on same-sex marriage, Proposition 8, and Marcellus A. McRae-both attorneys from the law firm of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP.

A copy of the Superior Court's groundbreaking decision can be found by clicking on the following link:  http://studentsmatter.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/Tenative-Decision.pdf   

Students Matter is a national nonprofit organization dedicated to sponsoring impact litigation to promote access to quality public education. Learn more at studentsmatter.org.

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