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Brown Facing Pressure to Veto ‘Flawed’ Teacher Dismissal Bill

Vanessa Romo | October 9, 2013

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Gov. Jerry Brown

Gov. Jerry Brown

Governor Jerry Brown is facing rising opposition to a bill designed to make it easier to fire teachers accused of abusing students. Critics say it doesn’t, and that could make it harder for him to justify signing it into law. The deadline for consideration is Sunday.

Over the last few weeks, school district superintendents, education groups and newspaper editorial boards across the state have expressed their concerns, pointing out what they perceive as numerous shortcomings in the measure, AB 375, authored by Joan Buchanan, a Bay Area Democrat.

Richard Carranza, Superintendent of San Francisco Unified, wrote in SF Gate, “This bill is a classic case of good intentions to protect student safety gone awry” and pleaded with the governor to veto the bill.

In a commentary for the Modesto Bee, Cindy Marks, President of the California School Boards Association, called AB 375 “deeply flawed,” saying, “I’m unaware of any school board or superintendent who has taken a position in support of the bill. It appears no one who has investigated and removed a teacher believes AB 375 is good for schools.”

Other opponents, including Students First, EdVoice and the editorial board of the Sacramento Bee concluded that the final version of AB 375 got so watered down by the time it reached the governor’s desk that the process for getting rid of teachers who may be a threat to student safety may actually be more onerous.

Their advice to Gov. Brown: A complete do-over; veto AB 375 until lawmakers can draft a better, more effective version.

Opponents of the bill say its most egregious problems are it would place a seven-month limit on the time a district has to bring a case against a teacher, a process that usually takes more than twice that long. It also prohibits the use of evidence more than four years old. It makes it more difficult to add or change charges if new information is uncovered during investigations, and it limits to five the number of witness who can testify against an accused to teacher.

In the 2012 Miramonte sex abuse scandal, in which teacher Mark Berndt was accused of lewd acts against 23 children at the Los Angeles elementary school, that would have been devastating, said state Senator Bob Huff, a Republican representing parts of Los Angeles, Orange and San Bernardino Counties who voted against AB 375.

“This bill would have shut out the voices of Mark Berdnt’s victims,” he said in a speech on the senate floor. “Anyone who molests children should have no right to exclude the voices of their victims.  How can we stand here in good conscience and say that is good for students?”

Instead, he said, a bill should limit witnesses only in cases dealing with teachers being dismissed for insufficient performance.

Buchanan, whose bill is backed by the California Teachers Association as well as UTLA, told EdSource “that the opponents are spreading misinformation and waging a campaign ‘not based on facts but emotion.’”

Assembly member Das Williams, who represents Santa Barbara, agrees.

“The truth is that AB 375 is faster. It is better than the current system and it will cost less money,” he told LA School Report.

Williams said he hopes Gov. Brown approves the bill.

“I understand why people would want the bill to be even stronger but I don’t understand how vetoing the bill and having nothing is better,” Williams said. “I think that the system we have right now is obviously flawed, and we do need to take some action and this is the action that we have before us.”

There’s nothing to stop the legislature from making it better in the future, he added.

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