FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Monday, February 20, 2014
Frank Wells, CTA at (562) 708-5425
Mike Myslinski, CTA at (510) 579-3343
California Education Community, Attorneys Outline Case Why Vergara Lawsuit Is Meritless
LOS ANGELES — Teachers, parents and students joined defense attorneys today at a news conference outlining the legal case against the meritless Vergara v. State of California lawsuit, which seeks to harm students and eradicate the professional rights of teachers. After three weeks of contradictory trial testimony, the plaintiffs have failed to make a case that certain state laws must be struck down to protect public school students.
The costly trial began Jan. 27 in Los Angeles County Superior Court. As the student plaintiffs and their lawyers are resting their case now, the legal team for CTA and CFT – which joined the lawsuit to protect students and the teaching profession – reiterated the strong case it plans to bring against the Vergara claims.
“For the past weeks the plaintiffs have failed to make any legal or logical connection between these laws they want to overturn and real issues important to our students and schools," said CTA President Dean E. Vogel. “This trial is a blatant effort to legislate from the bench instead of involving all the stakeholders who work hard every day to make our neighborhood schools so vital to our students. It’s time to talk more about the real trials that our students face from poverty, a lack of state funding, and overcrowded classrooms. The landmark implementation of the new Common Core State Standards is impacting all students and educators.”
“The moneyed interests behind this lawsuit want us to believe that taking away rights is the answer to improving public education,” said CFT President Joshua Pechthalt. “We should be talking about restoring art and music to the curriculum, about lowering class size, about bringing in more funding and resources into our schools, about parents and teachers working together more effectively, and how we can improve teacher training and evaluation.”
Attorney Jim Finberg, lead counsel for the California Teachers Association (CTA) and California Federation of Teachers (CFT), said the defense team will present clear and compelling evidence in court that the statutes being challenged do not harm students.
“The testimony of plaintiffs so far has not met the burden of proving all the elements of their claim, including that the statutes caused them real and appreciable harm and that they were treated differently from other students,” Finberg said. “Moreover, no plaintiff has been able to establish that they were assigned a grossly ineffective teacher by the statutes, since the statutes do not assign teachers. Districts and principals do.”
Finberg noted the testimony this week of the first defense expert, respected Harvard Professor Susan Moore Johnson, the former dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Education. She testified that a well-managed district can indeed evaluate whether probationary teachers are ineffective; can use Peer Assistance and Review programs to mentor struggling teachers, or persuade them to leave teaching; and can keep effective and experienced teachers in high-minority, high-poverty schools by assigning strong principals and teachers to those schools.
Strangely, Vergara plaintiffs labeled as ineffective such award-winning teachers as Christine McLaughlin, the Pasadena Unified School District 2013 Teacher of the Year. This district video, entered into evidence, includes students praising her skills. “Teachers care about quality,” McLaughlin said today. "We expect it in our students and we expect it from each other. The laws being challenged help keep a stable quality teaching force in our schools. The anecdotes the plaintiffs have tried to use as evidence have no connection to these laws and could have been given by students in any other state with wildly different laws governing teacher employment. That is a poor basis for changing public policy.”
“This lawsuit distracts from the real needs of my students," said Gaby Ibarra, a fifth-grade bilingual immersion teacher at Niemes Elementary School in the ABC Unified School District in Cerritos. “They need up-to-date instructional materials aligned with the Common Core State Standards. They need modern technology to focus on the STEM standards to prepare them for the future. They need parents who have time to help them with their schoolwork. Our district provides professional development to address continuing teacher education, has in place a technology plan to update every school, and offers after-school tutoring programs at our site for our parents who can’t help with homework. These are the right approaches, rather than blaming teachers for social problems and eliminating our rights.”
Community college student Kenia Alcocer said teachers need support, not to be attacked in court. “As a community college student at East Los Angeles College, my goal is to transfer to UC Riverside and major in Political Science and Law. I wouldn’t have gotten this far if it hadn’t been for my teachers. We should focus on what’s needed to support them, not on attacking them.”
Martha Sanchez, a parent in the Los Angeles Unified School District, said teachers need rights. “I worked with my children's teachers to close down a polluting factory near their school. Those teachers were able to advocate forcefully and effectively for my children and the other students only because they knew they had rights that protected them against losing their jobs when they came under pressure opposing their efforts.”
The news conference today drove home the arguments against the Vergara lawsuit. Plaintiffs have offered contradictory testimony and failed to demonstrate their case. Students Matter, a new group run by a Silicon Valley millionaire, is behind the lawsuit. See more lawsuit background here and here.
The 325,000-member CTA is affiliated with the 3.2 million-member National Education Association. The California Federation of Teachers is the statewide affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers, and represents 120,000 faculty and school employees in public and private schools and colleges, from early childhood through higher education.