Education Law

Teacher tenure law doesn't violate equal-protection guarantee, California appeals court says

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A California appeals court has upheld the state’s teacher tenure law in a challenge under the state’s constitutional guarantee of equal protection.

The decision (PDF) on Thursday reverses a 2014 trial court decision finding the law violates students’ right to equality of education, report the Recorder (sub. req.), the Washington Post and the New York Times. How Appealing links to additional coverage.

The nine students challenging the tenure law had claimed it kept ineffective teachers on the job, and those ineffective teachers are disproportionately assigned to poor and minority schools. The trial judge noted that California was one of just five states that grants tenure within two years.

But California’s Second District Court of Appeal said the plaintiffs failed to show the tenure law was the reason ineffective teachers are assigned to particular districts.

“Although the statutes may lead to the hiring and retention of more ineffective teachers than a hypothetical alternative system would,” the appeals court said, “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.”

The students challenging the law were represented by lawyers from Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher. Partner Theodore Boutrous called the ruling a “temporary setback” in a statement. “We are disappointed by the Court of Appeal’s decision today, but expect that the California Supreme Court will have the final say,” he said.

The case is Vergara v. California. Similar suits are pending in New York and Minnesota.

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