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State, teacher unions file briefs in tenure-ruling appeal

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Attorneys for the state and California's powerful teachers unions argued in a filing Friday that a landmark California teacher tenure case was flawed and should be overturned because no evidence was presented showing the disputed statutes are the cause of educational inequalities.

In briefs filed in the state's Second District Court of Appeal, attorneys for the state, the California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers contend there was no "legal or factual justification" in striking down state laws on tenure and job protection.

"This suit was never about helping students," CTA President Dean E. Vogel said a statement after the filing. "As educators we believe every student has the right to a caring, qualified and committed teacher — and that is why we are appealing the judge's misguided decision."

The Vergara v. State of California ruling by Superior Court Judge Rolf M. Treu in June 2014 found five California Education Code provisions — including policies allowing teachers to receive tenure within two years and be dismissed during layoffs on the basis of seniority — were unconstitutional because they deprived some of the state's 6.2 million students of a quality education. He said the challenged statutes in particular burdened poor and minority students, and that the evidence "shocks the conscience."

The case was closely watched and highlighted tensions between teacher unions, school leaders, lawmakers and well-funded education reform groups over whether policies like tenure and last-in-first-out keep ineffective teachers in the classroom, particularly in already low-performing schools. The lawsuit was filed by nine public school students, including Beatriz Vergara, and backed by Students Matter, a nonprofit group founded by Silicon Valley entrepreneur David Welch.

In response to the filings Friday, Students Matter said the state and teachers unions "recycle many of the same flawed arguments."

"We look forward to responding to the arguments presented in these briefs, and are confident that the appellate courts will affirm the Vergara judgment and protect the constitutional rights of California's students," said Cynara Lilly, a spokeswoman for the group.

In the appeal briefs, state attorneys argue there was no evidence presented at trial that any of the statutes, alone or in combination, caused any student to be assigned a particular teacher, "grossly ineffective" or otherwise. The attorneys say plaintiffs presented mostly anecdotal evidence that a handful of California school districts had failed to identify the most ineffective teachers over a two-year probationary period. They also state that while changing the statutes and lengthening a teacher's probation period would allow more time for evaluation, it would also "encourage administrators to procrastinate and keep underperforming probationary teachers in the classroom longer."

"No statutory scheme will eliminate all perceived educational disparities," the attorneys contend.

A similar lawsuit was filed in New York after the Vergara decision contending that state's teacher tenure and layoffs by seniority laws deprive students of a sound, basic education as guaranteed under the state constitution. Lawyers for New York's teachers union have asked for the case to be dismissed.


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