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CA’s ‘egregious teacher’ bill shows power of collaboration

Yana Gracile | June 17, 2014

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Kristin Olsen LAUSD

Assemblywoman Kristin Olsen, vice chair of the Education Committee

After years of trying, with students’ safety hanging in the balance, the state legislature has finally passed a measure that expedites the process for dismissing teachers accused egregious behavior.

Unanimous votes of support for AB 215 in both the Senate and Assembly was not only encouraging news for children and their parents, it underscored the power of collaboration among education groups that seldom work together.

AB 215 creates a streamlined process for action against teachers accused of committing immoral acts and felonies. Last year, Governor Jerry Brown vetoed a forerunner of the bill, AB 375, to the chagrin of teacher unions. Brown said it made it harder, not easier, to remove the teachers in question.

AB 215, sponsored by Joan Buchanan, a San Ramon Democrat, now awaits his signature.

Education reform advocacy group Edvoice, which opposed AB 375, and the California Teachers Association (CTA), which supported it, are two groups that often disagree on key issues, including teacher tenure, charter schools and the use of teacher evaluations. But they came together this time to draft language that everyone was able to support.

“It is rare for a bill with this much attention and historic controversy to receive unanimous support; that is unique,” Assemblywoman Kristen Olsen, a Modesto Republican and vice chair of the Assembly Education Committee, told LA School Report.

“They really negotiated the compromise that I believe became a win-win for students, parents, for teachers, for schools,” she said. “It’s not perfect, but it’s a balanced proposal that will greatly improve the process, saving districts time and money and protecting kids.”

Olsen said that this kind of agreement highlights how long overdue a solution has been to protect kids in the classroom.

“The fact that we finally came to a proposal that had a variety of groups in support of it gave the legislature the comfort for everybody to support it unanimously and with enthusiasm,” she said.

Unlike AB 375, which presented a single process for all teacher dismissal cases, AB 215 focuses largely on cases of egregious misconduct. It also offers a faster dismissal process that involves a single judge as opposed to a three-person administrative panel.

“Naturally, we would want to make sure that any teachers who have committed child abuse or sexual abuse, really egregious offenses, are dismissed as quickly as possible,” Olsen said.

AB 375 was opposed by many advocacy and reform groups like Edvoice, which claimed that it made it more difficult to enforce immediate suspensions for misconduct and to amend charges if new information was uncovered during investigations.

It also limited the number of depositions and created lengthy timelines for new processes and limited the authority of the administrative law judge hearing a case to speed up the process.

“If a person has performed an egregious act, we don’t have to deal with these layers that are cumbersome when it’s clear on issues of egregiousness alone, that they should be immediately dealt with in a way that still provides an opportunity for appeal,” Bill Lucia, President and CEO of Edvoice, told LA School Report. “It clarifies that you can actually suspend someone immediately with egregious misconduct without pay.”

AB 215 also improves a school’s ability to remove ineffective teachers by streamlining the dismissal appeal process on performance issues.

“[This is] an important first step toward the goals that the Vergara v. California decision described as imperative to ensuring equal access to a quality education for all of California’s students,” Olsen said.

Under the measure, appeals that now can take up two years to be heard, will be heard in six months and in cases of egregious misconduct, the hearings would go before an administrative law judge within 60 days.

But this time frame doesn’t sit well with the Association of California School Administrators (ACSA), which opposed AB 215.

“The bill does nothing to streamline the discovery process for egregious conduct dismissals, the timeline to commence an egregious conduct hearing is completely unworkable,” Naj Alikhan, the group’s spokesman, told LA School Report.

Alikhan said the group also believes the definition of “egregious conduct” is too narrow, saying, “the definition should include allegations related to certain serious and violent felonies including moral turpitude.”

However, the group believes AB 215 is a good starting point in the effort to protect students statewide.

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