Union-backed teacher discipline bill inadequate

Union-backed teacher discipline bill inadequate

No one was surprised last week when the California Assembly passed Assembly Bill 375, which, allegedly, makes it easier to discipline and fire teachers accused of misconduct. The bill, which now is pending in the state Senate, is supported by the California Teachers Association, which was criticized for having defeated past efforts to streamline teacher dismissals.

Last year, Senate Bill 1530 came in response to the Los Angeles Unified School District’s Miramonte Elementary School sex-abuse scandal. A former teacher is charged with 23 counts of engaging in lewd conduct with students. Despite efforts to fire the teacher, LAUSD wound up paying him $40,000 to just go away. LAUSD has since settled 58 Miramonte-related lawsuits for a combined $30 million. More lawsuits are pending, including from the district’s own insurers, who are challenging having to pay on these claims.

SB1530 was passed by the Senate and won the support of reformers, who believed that legislators would, finally, have the backbone to take on the teacher’s union. However, CTA prevailed on enough lawmakers to have SB1530 die in an Assembly committee.

Parents were outraged. One lawmaker who helped kill the bill was voted out of office – a rare outcome for an incumbent in California. CTA then teamed with Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan, D-San Ramon, on a bill intended get the issue off the table and out of the headlines.

AB375 has some merit. But the underlying impetus of the bill remains protection of teachers’ due process rights, which already tip the scales heavily in their favor – even in cases of egregious acts against children. Indeed, the only supporters of the bill before the Assembly Judiciary Committee were the CTA and the smaller statewide teachers union, the California Federation of Teachers.

Seemingly desperate for any change, LAUSD officials testified they supported the bill’s “goals.”

On the other hand, the bill’s opponents included education reformers, school board and administrators organizations and several county offices of education, including from Orange County.

AB375 purportedly shortens the process for removing teachers from the classroom, thereby saving taxpayers money. But what good is shortening the timeline if it only results in a the same flawed outcome?

Additionally, AB375 creates an entirely new hearing process for suspended teachers and imposes an even higher standard of proof for districts to achieve in sustaining a case continuance. Meanwhile, taxpayers are footing the bill. No wonder many school boards and districts are opposed.

Finally, AB375 still denies a school district the authority to fire a teacher, no matter how egregious the misconduct. Rather, it maintains the “process” by which teachers can appeal their case to a disciplinary commission consisting of two teachers and an administrative law judge. Unless final firing rests with a district’s superintendent and its elected school board representatives accountable to voters, districts will assume that, even when they press a discipline case, they will probably be overruled in the end. Nothing will change.

That’s why, as odious as it is, we shouldn’t be too surprised to find districts choosing to simply warehouse bad teachers in administrative limbo (called “rubber rooms” by some) and even paying criminal teachers to simply go away. They understand the law isn’t written for the benefit of kids.

Now is not the time to settle for a disingenuous bill. If the Legislature won’t fix the problem, we the people may simply have to write our own initiative.

Gloria Romero is an education reformer and former Democratic state senator from Los Angeles.

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