CA Supreme Court Upholds Teacher Tenure Protections

By Christopher Coble, Esq. on August 25, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Good news for teachers in the Golden State: the California Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal challenging teacher tenure and other job protections for educators. This means seniority rules and due process protections for teachers will remain in place, after a trial court judge threw them out in 2014.

This case is just one flashpoint in the current push-and-pull of traditional teacher protections and unionization and a platform of education reform that aims to re-make schools in the image of private businesses. Here's a closer look at the court's ruling.

The Originals

The case was originally filed on behalf of nine students in Southern California (though funded by nonprofit group Students Matter, founded by Silicon Valley entrepreneur David Welch). The group challenged current teacher tenure laws, arguing they disproportionately harm poor and minority students. And the trial judge agreed, saying the tenure laws were unconstitutional because they made it virtually impossible to fire incompetent teachers. Also, the trial judge said these ineffective teachers in schools serving predominantly low-income and minority students violated those students' rights to equality in education under the California Constitution.

But that decision was overturned by a three-judge state appeals court, who ruled that it is up to the state legislature to set education policy and that teacher tenure laws "do not inevitably lead to the assignment of more inexperienced teachers to schools serving poor and minority children."

The Supremes

The students and their backers appealed the decision to the California Supreme Court, but the court voted 4-3 not to hear the appeal, instead leaving the lower court ruling and the teacher protection laws in place. The majority is not required to issue an opinion when declining to hear a case, but two dissenting justices issued statements saying legitimate issues of law were at stake.

The war over educational reform is far from over, but this decision seems to indicate that the battles will be fought in the legislature, not the judiciary, at least in California.

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