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Court hears oral arguments for Vergara appeals Thursday

Mike Szymanski | February 24, 2016

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Press conference after Vergara ruling LAUSD

Press conference after the 2014 Vergara ruling.

Arguments in one of the most important lawsuits involving public education will be heard Thursday morning in the state Court of Appeals in Los Angeles.

The case of Vergara v. California seeks to overturn five laws involving teacher tenure, dismissals and the last-in, first-out layoff policies. The case was brought on behalf of nine students in five California public school districts and argued that the policies disproportionately harmed minority and low-income students.

After a two-month trial in early 2014, Judge Rolf M. Treu ruled in the plaintiffs’ favor. Treu delayed the portion of the ruling banning the imposition of those laws pending appeals.

A three-judge panel will hear arguments from lawyers representing the students and the state and teachers’ union. Lawyers will have arguments prepared, mostly about the validity of the lower court’s ruling, and justices will interrupt to ask questions. While the 2014 trial lasted for months and involved the presentation of scores of witnesses and evidence, the arguments likely won’t last more than an hour and will be more focused on the legal issues at hand and evidence already presented.

California rules require that the judges rule within 90 days, so a decision should be released by the end of May. The decision takes effect 30 days after that, unless one of the parties appeals to the state supreme court.

The National Education Association’s president, Lily Eskelsen Garcia, said in a statement Wednesday, “The Vergara v. State of California lawsuit is an example of using our court system for political goals. Ensuring that every student gets a good education is a critical goal but one that can’t be solved with lawsuits. From the onset, the case has highlighted the wrong problems, proposed the wrong solutions, and followed the wrong process. What’s most troubling of all is that this lawsuit is not about helping students and has become a divisive distraction from the real work needed to improve student success.”

She added, “Striking down the statutes will not help our most at-risk students. High-poverty districts do not suffer from too few teachers being removed; they suffer from too much teacher turnover.”

Manny Rivera of Students Matter, representing the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, issued a statement saying, “In September 2015, renowned constitutional law scholar Laurence H. Tribe, former California Governors Arnold Schwarzenegger and Pete Wilson, and education chiefs from around the country submitted amicus curiae (or “friend of the court”) briefs in support of Plaintiffs. President Obama’s Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, former Bay Area Democratic Congressman George Miller, and former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa have also publicly applauded the Superior Court’s ruling in favor of the student plaintiffs.”

He added, “The case has also struck a chord with the general public. An April 2015 USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll of California voters revealed more than half of California voters support eliminating or changing the state’s current teacher tenure laws, while a supermajority of voters (82 percent) believe teacher performance—rather than seniority alone—should be taken into account when making layoff and dismissal decisions.”

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