California’s embattled public school teachers received good news Thursday in the form of a state appellate court reversal of the controversial Vergara v. California decision.
Three weeks ago Students Matter, the nonprofit group behind the Vergara v. California lawsuit, began prominently touting United Farm Workers co-founder Dolores Huerta’s support for that suit on its website. The subhead of the group’s press release boldly claimed the labor icon was one of the “Voices of Vergara,” a collection of pro-lawsuit testimonials that appear on Students Matter’s website and on YouTube. The release stated that “the longtime California labor leader and civil rights activist” endorses the lawsuit and quotes her as saying, “I think it’s awesome that the Vergara lawsuit was filed. There is no excuse why we can’t have equality in education. I think we have the resources to do it, we’ve just got to have the will.”
There was only one problem: The press release’s statement wasn’t true.
On February 3 Huerta sent a strongly worded “cease and desist” letter to Students Matter’s public relations firm,
When Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Rolf Treu struck down the tenure rights of the state’s public school teachers last month in Vergara v. California, his decision was hailed by Theodore J. Boutrous Jr., lead attorney for the plaintiffs, as “a terrific, wonderful day for California students and for the California education system.”
The lawsuit, which had been brought on behalf of nine California schoolchildren, argued that the retention of “grossly ineffective” teachers through five due-process statutes violated the students’ civil rights.
The suit and its accompanying public relations blitz had been bought and paid for by Silicon Valley entrepreneur David Welch under the umbrella of Students Matter, Welch’s personal Menlo Park education reform nonprofit. Welch made his fortune designing large-capacity fiber optic transmission systems for the global service-provider market.
Reagan Duncan has taught a combined kindergarten-first grade class in Vista for 10 years. When she heard about Tuesday’s ruling in the Vergara v. California trial, she feared the worst. The case’s plaintiffs sought to throw out the state’s job protections for its teachers on the grounds that the safeguards make it impossible to dismiss “grossly ineffective” teachers.
“My first thought,” Duncan told Capital & Main, “was that it’s going to make it harder for well-run school districts to operate classes for our students – and worse for poorly run districts. The laws in place for dealing with teachers who struggle in the classroom have been working. I’ve seen teachers let go – it’s just not true that they never are.”
The bench trial, which began January 27 and unfolded over 10 weeks, was funded by Students Matter on behalf of nine public school students who claim that California’s policies violate the civil rights of students – particularly those of low-income and minority students – by denying them a quality education.
A Los Angeles judge ruled today that California’s public school teacher job protections are unconstitutional. The ruling, issued as a tentative decision, was immediately stayed by the Superior Court Judge, Rolf Treu, pending appeal.
The potentially far-reaching case, Vergara v. California, was brought on behalf of nine schoolchildren, who claimed the retention of “grossly ineffective” teachers through five due-process statutes violated their civil rights. They were organized by Students Matter, a Menlo Park nonprofit created by Silicon Valley entrepreneur David Welch, who had hired the white shoe law firm Gibson Dunn & Crutcher to represent the nine at the bench trial before Judge Treu.
Treu, appointed by Republican Governor Pete Wilson in 1995, found “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.”
As the Vergara v. California trial ends its fourth week, the most conspicuous absence from the plaintiffs list may be that of the man most responsible for bringing the education lawsuit — David Welch, the 52-year-old Silicon Valley entrepreneur and founder of Students Matter. His Menlo Park-based nonprofit initiated Vergara and is picking up all of the plaintiffs’ attorneys and PR fees — a bill that was running nearly $3 million even before Welch’s high-powered legal team first set foot in Los Angeles Superior Court for the trial.
Vergara was filed on behalf of nine students and seeks to erase nearly a hundred years of teacher protections from the state education code that were adopted to prevent discriminatory and capricious terminations. The suit claims that five statutes addressing teacher dismissal, seniority and tenure disproportionately harm minority students in high-poverty schools by making it too difficult to fire incompetent teachers.