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Bye-Bye, Vergara: CA Supreme Court Sides With Teachers in High-Stakes Case

Photo by Pandora Young

Photo by Pandora Young

On Monday a divided California Supreme Court declined, without comment, to hear an appeal of a lower court’s decision in a case that had stoked a fierce national debate over public education. The state high court’s refusal to review Vergara v. California drove a stake through the heart of a lawsuit that has roiled the state’s education community since June, 2014. That is when an L.A. County Superior Court judge ruled in favor of nine public-school students who claimed that longstanding tenure protections and other job safeguards for teachers violated the rights of low-income children to receive a quality education.

The lawsuit, filed in 2012 by the powerhouse law firm of Gibson Dunn & Crutcher, had alleged that the retention of “grossly ineffective” teachers through five due-process statutes violated the plaintiffs’ civil rights.

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The case, which was financed by Silicon Valley entrepreneur David Welch through his one-man “grassroots” organization, Students Matter, became a cause célèbre for education privatizers and charter-school activists, many of whom shared Welch’s wealthy background and education-as-business philosophy. Their euphoria over the 2014 Superior Court decision was deflated this past April, when a panel of appellate justices overturned that ruling, finding that

The evidence did not show that the challenged statutes inevitably cause this impact. Plaintiffs elected not to target local administrative decisions and instead opted to challenge the statutes themselves. This was a heavy burden and one plaintiffs did not carry.

Yesterday three of the seven state Supreme Court justices voted to hear the Vergara appeal. “Because the questions presented have obvious statewide importance,” wrote dissenting Justice Goodwin H. Liu, “and because they involve a significant legal issue on which the Court of Appeal likely erred, this court should grant review.”

Pointing to this minority vote, Students Matter reacted with a subdued but optimistic message. “The Supreme Court’s decision places the responsibility for improving the state’s teacher retention, evaluation and dismissal laws squarely with the California Legislature. And that’s where we intend to take this fight.” If so, Vergara’s opponents will be waiting for them, although on Monday they sounded ready to move on.

“It’s time to get back to the real issues facing our public schools and work together to improve student learning and support the art of teaching,” said California Teachers Association President Eric C. Heins. (CTA is a financial supporter of Capital & Main.) “Eliminating teachers’ ability to stand up for their students and robbing school districts of the tools they need to make sound employment decisions was a well-funded but wrong-headed scheme developed by people with no education expertise.”

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