California: Teacher Dismissal Bill Fails to Clear Committee

A bill to speed up the teacher dismissal process in California has failed to clear committee stage. Assembly education committee chairwoman Julia Brownley supported the Bill alongside four Republican members, but Brownley's six Democratic colleagues either opposed it or abstained.

Los Angeles schools chief John Deasy has already called the outcome ‘shameful'. He had sought the reforms following the sex abuse scandal at Miramonte where teacher Mark Berndt put cockroaches on children's faces and fed them his semen on a spoon.

The bill would have allowed school boards to suspend without pay someone notified of dismissal for ‘serious and egregious unprofessional conduct' which involved either sex abuse, drugs or violence towards children.

"It is shameful," Deasy said of the panel's decision. "It seems a no-brainer bill that would allow districts an expedited way, with full due process rights, to fire teachers who have committed the most heinous acts."

The bill also proposed to alter state law and give school boards final authority over such dismissals instead of the current situation where final authority lays with a three member panel composed of an administrative judge and representatives chosen by the district and employee. While the judge's services would have been retained, his decision would have become advisory.

While Deasy believed that the employee would retain full due process rights under the reform, labor unions disagreed and labelled it an attack on due process rights. As such the bill was heavily opposed by the California Teachers Association and United Teachers Los Angeles.

"We teachers, above everyone else, want to be sure that if there are bad people in the classroom abusing the trust we have been given, that they are not in the classroom," Fletcher said. "But we want to make sure we are doing it the right way."

Democratic Senator Alex Padilla, who wrote the bill, denied that it violated due process rights as employees would retain the right to a full hearing and appeal. They could also file a wrongful-termination claim and retained other legal protections.

He disputed Fletcher's claim that the law already allowed for immediate suspension without pay of teachers involved in immoral conduct. This assessment would seem to borne out by the fact that LA Unified School District paid $40,000 to Mark Berndt, currently charged with 23 counts of lewd acts on children, to avoid the current time consuming and expensive process.

Had there been a speedier process, L.A. Unified might have pursued Berndt's dismissal rather than pay him to retire, according to Alex Molina, the district's chief labor and employment counsel.

"I believe the district would have stuck to its guns and seen the process through," Molina said.

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