Appeals court upholds California teacher tenure laws

Students' lawsuit, filed against state officials in 2012, was sponsored by Menlo Park-based group Students Matter

California's public-school teacher tenure laws were upheld by a state appeals court in Los Angeles Thursday.

A three-judge Court of Appeal panel unanimously overturned a 2014 decision by a trial judge who found the laws on teacher tenure, dismissal and seniority to be unconstitutional.

The panel said nine students who challenged the measures hadn't proved that the laws in themselves, as opposed to other factors, caused any particular group of students to receive incompetent teachers.

Thus, the plaintiffs couldn't support their claim that the laws violated the California constitutional right to equal treatment, the court said.

"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," Justice Roger Boren wrote for the panel.

The court said local "administrators -- not the statutes -- ultimately determine where teachers within a district are assigned to teach."

The panel reversed a decision in which Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Rolf Treu said the laws had a "real and appreciable impact on students' right to an equal education" and imposed a disproportionate burden on poor and minority students.

The students' lawsuit, filed against state officials in 2012, was sponsored by the Menlo Park-based group Students Matter, founded by Silicon Valley entrepreneur David Welch.

Welch said the students will appeal to the state Supreme Court.

"Today (Thursday), the courts failed to safeguard students' constitutional rights," Welch said in a statement. "I hope and expect that the California Supreme Court will step in and protect the rights of millions of students across California."

The state's two largest teacher unions called the decision "a stinging rebuke" to Treu's ruling and said the tenure laws don't harm children.

Eric Heins, president of the Burlingame-based California Teachers Association, said, "This is a great day for educators and, more importantly, for students.

"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," Heins said in a statement.

The CTA and Burbank-based California Federation of Teachers were allowed to join the case as parties defending the laws.

The five laws were a measure that gives teachers permanent tenure after two years; three laws providing procedural protections to teachers whom school districts are seeking to dismiss for incompetence; and a law requiring layoffs to be in order of least seniority.

The unions contend the laws encourage veteran teachers to stay in the profession and young people to join it.

Treu had issued an injunction blocking the laws, but suspended it during the appeal process; Thursday's decision sets aside the injunction.

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