Civil Rights Groups, Researchers, Legal Scholars, and Top Educators Urge Reversal of Deeply Flawed Vergara Ruling

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:  September 16, 2015 

Contacts: For CFT: Fred Glass 510-579-3343
For CTA: Frank Wells 562-708-5425

For Information on the Civil Rights Groups Brief:
Jennifer Bezoza or Candice Francis, (415) 543-9697, ext: 232


Amicus “Friend of the Court” Briefs Filed Today
Spotlight Harm to Students and Failings of Decision

LOS ANGELES — Some of the nation’s top legal scholars, education policy experts, civil rights advocates, award-winning teachers, school board members and administrators filed five amici curiae, or “friend of the court,” briefs with the California Court of Appeal today. The filings shine a spotlight on the numerous and major flaws that would harm students in last year’s decision striking down important due process rights for California educators, as well as other laws governing hiring and layoffs of state educators. The briefs strongly criticize the Vergara ruling on both legal and policy grounds, urging that the decision be reversed.

Prominent civil rights organizations including the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, Equal Justice Society, Education Law Center, Southern Poverty Law Center, and Advancing Justice-LA filed powerful briefs. These organizations argued that a lack of adequate funding, and certainly not the challenged statutes, is the primary cause of educational inequity, and that in order to close the achievement gap, disadvantaged schools and students must have the support and resources they need to succeed. Arguing that money and race influence competition for qualified teachers and the ability of districts to enact proven reforms like smaller class sizes, the organizations urged the Court to reverse the “…plaintiffs’ attempt to lay blame at the feet of the tenure system for disparities that are the product of other factors, including chronically inadequate funding for education.”

Some of California’s most-honored teachers—including 2012 National Teacher of the Year Rebecca Mieliwocki, and 2014 California Teacher of the Year and national nominee Timothy Smith—wrote of the importance of due process and how these laws ensure they are able to teach without fear of discriminatory, politically-motivated, or baseless termination, and how the laws support the risk-taking often necessary to be an outstanding teacher. They also stressed how striking down the challenged statutes would likely worsen teacher turnover in already disadvantaged school districts. The educators were joined in their brief by the American Association of University Professors, the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee, and the Korematsu Center for Law & Equality.

More than ninety top national education researchers and scholars, including Diane Ravitch, Richard Ingersoll and Eva Baked, took the decision to task for failing to establish any causal link between the challenged statutes and any alleged problems the suit purports to address. These experts argued that current laws play a key role in the recruitment and retention of quality teachers, in a job market where teaching is unfortunately often becoming less and less attractive as a career option for university students. The researchers were also highly critical of the plaintiffs’ proposal to rely on standardized test scores and the “value-added method (VAM)” of interpreting those scores as the major criteria for teacher layoffs due to budget cuts. “VAM scores have been shown to be unstable and to fluctuate dramatically from year to year, so that a teacher could appear very ineffective one year and then very effective the next,” they wrote. “The trial court ultimately failed to consider the possibility that relying solely on VAMs as a way to administer reductions-in-force could drive teachers away from the profession and exacerbate the teacher shortage.”

Past and present school board members, as well as school administrators, filed a brief that argued making teaching a more attractive profession is in the best interest of students. Vergara would make teaching a less desirable profession and would exacerbate a growing teacher scarcity, especially in light of the fact that it is just one among many ongoing orchestrated attacks on educators. Among supporters of the appeal were Kevin Beiser, board member of the San Diego Unified School District; Joan Buchanan, former state lawmaker and trustee of the San Ramon Valley Unified School District; and Steve Zimmer, board president of the Los Angeles Unified School District.

Perhaps most devastating to the decision was the brief by some of the top legal scholars in the country, among them Dean Erwin Chemerinsky and Catherine Fisk of UC Irvine Law School, Charles Ogletree of Harvard Law School, and Pam Karlan of Stanford Law School. These experts said there was simply no basis in the law for finding the challenged statutes unconstitutional or that any causal link had been demonstrated between the statutes and a diminished education for any student. They argued that striking down the statutes could in fact make things worse for students. They wrote, “In this case, the trial court substituted its judgment about desirable education policy and the best way to improve education for students without regard to the harms its policy choice might cause and without regard to the evidence or the law about the cause of educational inequities and the likelihood that the court’s injunction would redress it. The trial court exceeded its role in our constitutional system and its ruling must be reversed.”

Attorney General Kamala Harris, representing the State of California as defendant; and the intervening parties, California Teachers Association and California Federation of Teachers, had filed separate appeal briefs earlier this summer. The amici curiae briefs filed today, as well as a complete list of signatories, can be seen here.

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The 325,000-member CTA is affiliated with the 3 million-member National Education Association. The California Federation of Teachers is the statewide affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers, and represents more than 100,000 faculty and school employees in public and private schools and colleges, from early childhood through higher education.

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