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Landmark Suit Inches Forward

Hillel Aron | November 12, 2012

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Plaintiffs’ attorneys Ted Boutrous, left, and Josh Lipshutz, right, with Students Matter founder David Welch in the background

On Friday, the first hearing was held in Vergara v. California, a case that seeks to strike down five laws that could — for better or worse — end up being the most revolutionary education lawsuit in the history of California. 

“What plaintiffs are asking for is far beyond scope of what the courts have decided [in the past],”  said State of California lawyer Jonathan Rich.

“This may be that important case,” replied Judge Rolf M. Treu.

The California Supreme Court has ruled previously that education is a fundamental right under the state constitution and that students deserve equality of access to education.

The plaintiffs in Vergara argue that the laws that protect “grossly incompetent” teachers violate the constitution, since students that are placed in classrooms with these bad teachers don’t receive the same access to education as other students

On Friday, the lawyer for the State of California, Jonathan Rich, argued that the plaintiffs were taking the constitutional protection of equality of education way too far.

“The plaintiffs are asking the court to go into uncharted territory,” Rich told the judge. “A court has never held there’s a certain level of quality of education guaranteed. You would be the first.”

Previous cases, such as Serrano v. Priest“dealt with fiscal disparities… The Constitution does not prohibit all disparities.”

One of the parent plaintiffs, Jose Macias, described how his daughter’s self-confidence was shattered by an LAUSD teacher, according to this LA Times story (Lawsuit against teacher tenure laws, seniority rights advances).  The article also describes a LAUSD teacher’s experience of being displaced due to seniority rules rather than effectiveness.

Ted Boutrous, the lead attorney for the plaintiffs, seemed pretty confident that the suit is going to be monumental in its impact.

“This is a major, high-impact piece of litigation that could revolutionize education,” he told reporters after the hearing.

Boutrous said that even though the trial is about a year away, there will likely be appeals, which could take it all the way to the State Supreme Court.

In other words, this could be years away from getting sorted out.

In a preliminary decision (here),  Judge Treu rejected the defendants’ request to dismiss the suit.

Previous posts: First Hearing for Massive LawsuitSchool Reform in the Courts

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