Trial could drastically change tenure for public school teachers

LOS ANGELES - Five laws make it expensive and time-consuming to dismiss ineffective educators and should be found unconstitutional, an attorney said Monday as trial of a lawsuit that could drastically change tenure for public school teachers got under way in Los Angeles.

``The effects can be catastrophic for students and children in California,'' lawyer Theodore Boutrous said in his opening statement on behalf of nine young plaintiffs in a non-jury trial before Judge Rolf M. Treu.

The plaintiffs' lawsuit, filed in May 2012 in Los Angeles Superior Court, alleges the laws violate students' constitutional rights to an equal education. The lawsuit names the state and two teacher unions that later intervened as defendants, the California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers.

Deputy Attorney General Nimrod Elias countered that the laws protecting teacher tenure help school districts statewide attract teachers who might otherwise be dissuaded by what they may consider low pay and difficult working conditions. He said there is no evidence of a connection between the laws and the poor academic performances by students at some poor and minority schools.

``Striking down these laws will not end that achievement gap,'' Elias said.

Elias said the students' lawyers are using extreme examples in the Los Angeles and Oakland districts to make points that are not representative of how teacher tenure laws are working statewide.

Lawyer James Finberg, representing the teacher unions, said the laws help prevent teachers from being hired and retained for reasons involving favoritism and politics.

``When teachers are provided the support they need, they excel,'' Finberg said.

A Pasadena schoolteacher named in the suit as ineffective by one of the plaintiffs recently was named teacher of the year in her district, Finberg said. But according to Boutrous, teachers can obtain tenure in as little was 16 months, far less time than required in many other states.

``It's a broken system that is not working,'' he said.

One of the plaintiffs complained of a teacher sleeping in class, calling Latino children ``cholos'' and spending learning time showing YouTube videos, Boutrous said.

Minority students are the most negatively affected by teachers who do not do their jobs properly, he said.  

``They fall far behind their peers academically,'' Boutrous said, arguing that the five laws targeted in the suit are a direct cause of the problem.

``They shackle and preclude ... districts from acting in the best interests of their students,'' he said.

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