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Attorney: It's Too Time-Consuming to Fire a Bad Teacher

In his closing arguments in a widely watched case challenging tenure, plaintiff's lawyer Theodore Boutrous said, "Teaching is the one profession in the world where you cannot tell a person they are not doing a good job."

A judge hearing a lawsuit challenging teacher tenure is hearing final arguments today. Patch photo credit: Penny Arévalo.
A judge hearing a lawsuit challenging teacher tenure is hearing final arguments today. Patch photo credit: Penny Arévalo.

Originally posted at 1:12 p.m. March 27, 2014. Edited with new details.

By BILL HETHERMAN

City News Service

In a widely watched case calling into question tenure and other employment protections granted to teachers statewide, an attorney argued today it is currently too time-consuming and expensive to dismiss ineffective educators and urged that five laws be found unconstitutional.     

"Teaching is the one profession in the world where you cannot tell a person they are not doing a good job," lawyer Theodore Boutrous said in his closing argument on behalf of nine young plaintiffs in a non-jury trial before Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Rolf M. Treu.

Lawyer James Finberg, representing two teacher unions, countered that the laws help prevent teachers from being hired and retained for reasons involving favoritism and politics. He said that in as little as three months, an administrator can make a "well-informed decision" as to whether a probationary teacher should be retained.

"The statutes should not be struck down on the basis of a handful of anecdotes," Finberg said.

The plaintiffs' lawsuit, filed in May 2012, alleges the laws violate students' constitutional rights to an equal education. The suit names the state and two teacher unions that later intervened as defendants, the California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers.

Treu said he will take the case under submission April 10, the deadline for additional briefs to be filed by the attorneys. He said he then has 90 days from that time to make a decision.

"It was ... a long case with much evidence and the court has much to consider," Treu said. "The court has not made up its mind which way it will rule."

The plaintiffs' lawsuit, filed in May 2012, alleges the laws violate students' constitutional rights to an equal education. The suit names the state and two teacher unions that later intervened as defendants, the California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers.

According to Boutrous, the testimony of Harvard University economics professor Raj Chetty provided conclusive testimony -- based on a study of 2.5 million students and a review of 20 years of tax return records -- that a good teacher will affect a student's ability to achieve in both the classroom and later in the working world.

The other side provided "not one document disputing anything he said," according to Boutrous, who displayed on a courtroom screen a montage of testimony from plaintiffs in the case.

"I want to go to college, I want to be a nurse," one female plaintiff said. "A teacher is supposed to motivate us and help us."

Boutrous called on Treu to rule in favor of the plaintiffs.

"We ask the court to put a stop to it by striking down these statutes," Boutrous said. "This is real harm to real kids that is depriving them of their constitutional rights."

Boutrous said low-income and minority students are bearing "even more brunt" than other pupils.

But Finberg said even Chetty acknowledged that administrators do not find it difficult to determine which teachers are not passing muster. He said the plaintiffs are basing much of their arguments on teacher tenure histories in Los Angeles and Oakland and not taking into sufficient consideration how teacher performances are overseen in the more than 1,000 other districts statewide.

Finberg replayed the trial testimony of former El Monte Union High School District Superintendent Jeff Seymour, who said new teachers are carefully screened by administrators to ensure they are meeting the proper standards.

In his Jan. 27 opening statement, Deputy Attorney General Nimrod Elias said the laws protecting teacher tenure help school districts statewide attract educators who might otherwise be dissuaded by what they may consider low pay and difficult working conditions.

Elias said there is no evidence of a connection between the laws and the poor academic performances by students at some poor and minority schools.

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten issued a statement today concerning the trial's closing arguments.

"As the trial comes to a close, we see a major disconnect between the argument the plaintiffs' lawyers have advanced in the courtroom over the past few months and the reality of what's happening in California's schools and to California's children, their families and their educators, she said. "This disconnect makes it increasingly clear that the conversation that the elite and the wealthy, including those funding this lawsuit, are having is sadly ideological and disengaged from the realities of public schools and communities."

According to Weingarten, research and polling show that parents and community members believe the true trials students face are poverty, segregation, lack of funding and resources and violence at home and at school.

"They don't believe that teachers are the problem, and they actually trust teachers the most to help their children and to scale up and sustain solutions to reclaim the promise of public education," she said.

fact checker April 01, 2014 at 06:24 PM
The proof of my post can be found in every single contract.
fact checker April 01, 2014 at 06:54 PM
Here is the exact contract language CP _____________________________________________________ ARTICLE 6 - Safety Conditions of Employment 6.1 The safety and health of pupils and employees is of the utmost concern to the District. To ensure that exposure to unsafe or unhealthy conditions is minimized, unit members are encouraged to be safety conscious in their own actions and to report, in writing, any alleged unsafe or potentially unsafe or unhealthy conditions to their immediate supervisor. The immediate supervisor is to forward such report within five (5) working days. In the event that the immediate supervisor considers the proposed corrective action is not feasible or necessary, the immediate supervisor shall inform the reporting unit member in writing of the evaluation and/or action and shall submit a copy of the report and the reply to the Assistant Superintendent, Operational Services, or designee, within five (5) working days of receipt of such report.
Capo Parent April 04, 2014 at 03:24 PM
Union tools, and dull ones at that.
shelly April 04, 2014 at 07:04 PM
Capo Parent, Why the name calling?
fact checker April 04, 2014 at 08:23 PM
Because factual and respectful discussions aren't getting the results wanted. It's easier to trash than it is to back up a losing prospect.

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