NEA seeks reversal of deeply-flawed Vergara decision

The California Court of Appeal in Los Angeles heard oral arguments Thursday in Vergara v. State of California. The Court is being asked to reverse the troubling decision by the California Superior Court that wrongly struck down due process protections for teachers under California law. The National Education Association joins the State of California, the California Teachers Association and California Federation of Teachers in urging reversal of the deeply-flawed decision.

The trial court’s decision contains serious legal errors that could lead to an explosion of litigation, threatening to constitutionalize every education policy decision school districts and the state must make. Preeminent education policy experts, school board members and administrators, civil rights advocates, award-winning teachers, and top legal scholars have filed amici curiae, or “friend of the court” briefs urging the California Court of Appeal to uphold the basic protections on which teachers and students depend. NEA also filed an amicus brief, urging the court to restore to the California Legislature the prerogative to make educational policy by striking down the Vergara ruling.

Following is a statement from NEA President Lily Eskelsen García:

The Vergara v. State of California lawsuit is an example of using our court system for political goals. Ensuring that every student gets a good education is a critical goal but one that can’t be solved with lawsuits. From the onset, the case has highlighted the wrong problems, proposed the wrong solutions, and followed the wrong process. What’s most troubling of all is that this lawsuit is not about helping students and has become a divisive distraction from the real work needed to improve student success.

The trial court was wrong on the facts and the law. Trial testimony established that the education statutes at issue help districts attract and retain high-quality teachers and ensure that good teachers are not fired for bad reasons. Both sides agree that there are only a small number of grossly ineffective teachers, and trial evidence demonstrates that the statutes do not prevent school districts from dismissing such teachers.

Due process policies such as tenure are an important job protection that teachers value highly. These policies don’t prevent bad teachers from being fired; they prevent good teachers from being fired for bad reasons. Qualified teachers earn these due process protections after satisfying performance expectations. These protections allow teachers to advocate for their students and to teach controversial and challenging curriculum without fear that they will be punished for doing so by overreaching administrators and others with arbitrary or personal agendas.

Striking down the statutes will not help our most at-risk students. High-poverty districts do not suffer from too few teachers being removed; they suffer from too much teacher turnover. Attracting and retaining effective teachers to these schools must be the highest priority, but the trial court’s decision will only make that much harder. It puts unnecessary blame and pressure on teachers who are doing their best to teach at-risk students. An already professionally risky and tough job will only get riskier and tougher. Given the serious teacher shortages California faces, the trial court’s ruling, if allowed to stand, would do serious damage to our public schools, especially our most vulnerable students.

NEA looks forward to the California Court of Appeal overturning this deeply-flawed decision so that we can return to working on real solutions with education policymakers. Only when teachers, school boards, and administrators work together can we ensure that there is a great public school for every student.

Find out more at www.cta.org/vergara