Calif. Teacher Tenure Ruling: 5 Things to Know

By Daniel Taylor, Esq. on June 11, 2014 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

A Los Angeles County judge ruled Tuesday that California's teacher tenure laws are unconstitutional. The decision could spark similar lawsuits nationwide.

As reported by Reuters, the ruling in Vergara v. California strikes down five laws that education reformers claim make it difficult to fire teachers who do a poor job. Teachers unions and state educational officials opposed the suit, calling it an attack on teachers.

Here are five things you need to know about the suit, the ruling, and what's next in this ongoing legal battle:

  1. Who are the plaintiffs and why did they sue? The plaintiffs in this case are nine California public school students, who brought suit through their guardians ad litem -- i.e., guardians appointed by the court to represent the interest of minors in a legal case. The plaintiffs claimed that the challenged statutes has resulted in incompetent teachers -- who can't be fired under California teacher tenure laws -- being moved to schools serving mainly low-income and minority students, adversely affecting the quality of their education.
  2. Why did the judge find teacher-tenure laws to be unconstitutional? In his ruling, the judge noted that the evidence presented during the trial of the negative effect of "grossly ineffective" teachers on their students' overall education was compelling and "shocks the conscience." The judge found that the concentration of these ineffective teachers in schools serving predominantly low-income and minority students violated those students' rights to equality in education under the California Constitution.
  3. How did the state and the teachers' union try to defend the laws? The defendants admitted that there were a great deal of incompetent teachers in California; their own expert testified that up to 8,250 of the state's 275,000 teachers are "grossly ineffective." The defendants' argument hinged mostly on teachers' own due process rights to keeping their jobs.
  4. When will the ruling take effect? Although the decision ordered the state to stop enforcing the teacher tenure laws at issue in this case, the judge stayed his ruling pending appeals that most expect will be filed shortly.
  5. Could this case have national implications? The ruling is likely to embolden similar legal challenges in other states where education reform is a hot issue. Marcellus McCrae, a lawyer for the plaintiffs in this case, told Reuters following the ruling that his team was considering pursuing similar actions in other states.

You can read the California teacher-tenure ruling in its entirety at FindLaw's Courtside blog.

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