Educators Applaud Appellate Ruling in Meritless Vergara Lawsuit
Stinging Reversal of Lower Court Decision Vindicates Due Process, Benefits of Challenged Laws to Students, School Districts
Contacts: For CTA, Frank Wells at 562-708-5425; For CFT, Fred Glass at 510-579-3343
LOS ANGELES – In a sweeping victory for students and educators, the California Court of Appeal today reversed a lower court decision in the deeply flawed Vergara v. California lawsuit. The unanimous appellate opinion is a stinging rebuke to Judge Rolf M. Treu’s poorly-reasoned ruling, and to the allegations made and millions of dollars spent by wealthy anti-union “education reformers” to bypass voters, parents, and the legislature with harmful education policy changes. The reversal affirms the arguments of educators, civil rights groups, legal scholars and education policy experts that the state statutes affirming educator rights do not harm students.
“This is a great day for educators and, more importantly, for students,” said California Teachers Association President Eric C. Heins. “Today’s ruling reversing Treu’s decision overwhelmingly underscores that the laws under attack have been good for public education and for kids, and that the plaintiffs failed to establish any violation of a student’s constitutional rights. Stripping teachers of their ability to stand up for their students and robbing school districts of the tools they need to make sound employment decisions was a wrong-headed scheme developed by people with no education expertise and the appellate court justices saw that.”
In their 36-page decision, Justices Roger Boren, Judith Ashmann-Gerst and Brian Hoffstadt outline the numerous ways in which the plaintiffs’ arguments were wrong and Judge Treu’s decision declaring the statutes unconstitutional could not be affirmed. “We reverse the trial court’s decision. Plaintiffs failed to establish that the challenged statutes violate equal protection, primarily because they did not show that the statutes inevitably cause a certain group of students to receive an education inferior to the education received by other students. …the statutes do not address the assignment of teachers; instead, administrators—not the statutes—ultimately determine where teachers within a district are assigned to teach. Critically, plaintiffs failed to show that the statutes themselves make any certain group of students more likely to be taught by ineffective teachers than any other group of students. With no proper showing of a constitutional violation, the court is without power to strike down the challenged statutes. The court’s job is merely to determine whether the statutes are constitutional, not if they are “a good idea.”…The judgment is reversed. The matter is remanded to the trial court with directions to enter judgment in favor of defendants on all causes of action.”
“Today’s decision vindicates decades of experience that show many local districts across the state are working collaboratively with teachers to help public education thrive. We need to take those best practices and expand them, not wipe out education codes that protect students and teachers,” said Joshua Pechthalt, president of the California Federation of Teachers. “We have a looming teacher shortage that is made worse by lawsuits like this one and the constant attacks on teachers and public education. We need to work together to raise up teacher performance and create a climate that keeps veteran teachers in the classroom and attracts young people to the profession.”
Vergara was the brainchild of Silicon Valley multi-millionaire David Welch and a group of corporate attorneys and public relations experts who founded the organization Students Matter to back the suit and to recruit the nine student plaintiffs used to front their failed attempt. At issue in the case were five California statutes covering due process rights for teachers, probationary periods, and the value of educator experience when school districts are forced to lay off personnel due to cuts.
Over the course of a nearly two-month trial, award-winning teachers, superintendents, principals, school board members, education researchers, and policy experts testified to the benefit of these laws and how they work quite well to ensure quality instructors in well-run school districts. Plaintiff attorneys put on witnesses from often dysfunctional districts where administrators attempted to blame the laws instead of their own failures to fulfill basic responsibilities such as spending time in classrooms observing teachers or providing assistance to struggling educators. No connection was ever made between the challenged laws and any student being harmed or any teacher who should not be in a classroom remaining there. The Court of Appeal decision repeatedly affirmed that the current laws do not prevent districts from making personnel decisions.
Pechthalt and Heins say now we can continue to focus on the work we are entrusted to do and that is to educate our students.
The 325,000-member CTA is affiliated with the 3 million-member National Education Association. The California Federation of Teachers is the statewide affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers, and represents more than 100,000 faculty and school employees in public and private schools and colleges, from early childhood through higher education.