02/25/2016

California educators appeal 'Vergara' decision

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Attorneys representing more than 400,000 members of the California Teachers Association and California Federation of Teachers appeared in the California Court of Appeal Feb. 25 in downtown Los Angeles to ask that the June 2014 ruling in the deceptive and meritless Vergara v. State of California be overturned for the sake of California's six million students.

At a press conference before the opening arguments were made, attorney Michael Rubin laid out the case for reversing the faulty opinion of Judge Rolf M. Treu. Appearing with Rubin were longtime union and civil rights leader Dolores Huerta, southern California elementary school teacher Gaby Ibarra, and Martha Sanchez, a concerned parent who believes current laws work best for students.
 
SVergara press conferencetating that Judge Treu's decision striking down five California Education Code provisions "is without support in law or fact," the speakers predicted that Treu's numerous errors will be clearly visible to the appeals court, and the earlier Superior Court judgment will be overturned. Treu's decision was stayed pending appeal, but if upheld, it would cause great harm to public education.

"There is no basis in law or fact for the trial court's unprecedented ruling, and we are confident that the Court of Appeal will reverse it. Disputes over education policy are for the legislature to resolve, not the courts," Rubin said. "The statutory framework allows school districts considerable latitude in hiring, firing, and assigning teachers and was well within the legislature's authority to enact. There is no evidence—zero—that these statutes are the cause of any constitutional violation, and we are confident that the Court of Appeal will fully agree with our position."

Dolores Huerta, renowned civil rights leader, founder of the Dolores Huerta Foundation and co-founder of the National Farm Workers Association, talked about the importance of teachers having a strong voice for students and described how Students Matter misrepresented details of the case in an attempt to get her support.

"I strongly believe in providing all children with equal access to a quality public education, and that starts with having educators who have the professional rights to stand up and speak out for the students in their classrooms," Huerta said. "All my life, I have worked to fight discrimination, uphold the rights of workers and improve social and economic conditions for our students and their families. I am not going to stop now by aligning myself with an organization that blatantly misrepresents the facts and pushes an agenda to strip workers of their rights for the financial gain of its backers. Students Matter is attempting to deceive the courts and public opinion in the same way they attempted to deceive me and it's time to tell the truth."

Huerta, whose foundation has worked on education issues for the last five years in the Central Valley, had made a video with Students Matter that was posted on their website. However, after learning that the suit would strip basic workplace rights from teachers, and that the backers of Students Matter were some of the same corporate special interests who opposed a recent ballot measure that immediately stopped devastating budget cuts to California's schools and also pushed an initiative aimed at silencing the voices of workers and their unions, she demanded that the organization remove her video from their website.

Gaby Ibarra, who has been teaching fifth grade at Niemes Elementary School in the ABC Unified School District in southern California for 19 years, told reporters she feels outraged that this baseless suit demonizes teachers and proposes to destroy her right to due process.  

"My students need me to be secure in my classroom in my knowledge that I have the freedom to teach in the way that I know is best," said Ibarra. "My rights in the classroom are what protect the right of my students to a good education. Rather than demonizing teachers, we should be talking about integrating art and music in the curriculum, hiring more nurses and librarians, lowering class sizes, providing more resources for our schools, and about parents and teachers working together more effectively. This suit does none of these things. It does not fix the problems we know are there, and attempts to fix problems that don't exist."

Martha Sanchez, whose children attend Los Angeles Unified School District, schools believes current laws ensure her students have the best opportunity to succeed in school.

"As a parent I believe my children receive the best education possible when their teachers have clear employment rights," Sanchez said. "No teacher should have to worry about arbitrary administrator decisions or political whims to know they will have their jobs each year. Any lawsuit that tries to remove those rights, claiming that this is the reason why students don't have the best education possible, was written by people who either don't know what happens in schools or who wish harm to public education."

CFT and CTA joined Governor Jerry Brown in submitting appeals, as did State Superintendent Tom Torlakson. Those appeals expose deep and numerous flaws in the lower court ruling, among them that there is no evidence the challenged laws have caused harm or inevitably would cause harm to anyone, that the court blatantly ignored evidence proving these laws improve the quality of public education for California students, that the court intruded on an inherently legislative function, and that the student plaintiffs recruited to front the case have absolutely no standing to bring suit.

Some of those students attended charter and pilot schools that aren't even governed by these laws, and the teachers they complained about in their testimony had very good evaluations; one was the Pasadena Unified School District Teacher of the Year. Prominent civil rights groups, national education policy experts, school board members from across the state, and top legal scholars have also filed their own briefs urging reversal of the earlier ruling.

[California Federation of Teachers/California Teachers Association press release]