Teacher Dismissal Bill: No Added Concern for Predators
Hillel Aron | September 19, 2013
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The teacher dismissal bill awaiting Gov. Jerry Brown‘s signature includes no specific language for streamlining the process of removing teachers for sexual and physical abuse, which had been the focus of earlier bills. The final version simply creates protocols to govern any dismissal case.
Brown has until Oct. 13 to sign it.
Assembly Bill 375, which passed both houses of the legislature last week, grew out of other bills, more narrowly written, that focused on teachers who posed threats to children. Those efforts, opposed by teachers unions, evolved into a wider bill that creates overall procedures with deadlines when none were in place before, prompting some lawmakers were characterizing as too long, too expensive and too cumbersome.
Sponsored by Joan Buchanan, a northern California Democrat and new chair of the Assembly’s education committee, the final version has the strong support of the unions, in part, for maintaining a three-member panel that decides a case — two teachers and an administrative law judge — and for loosening the eligibility requirements for teachers to serve on the panel.
But critics of the bill before Brown argue that it betrays the purpose of the original legislation, denying districts an explicit pathway to removing teachers accused of immoral and illegal behavior.
“For me, I see no benefit in the bill,” John Deasy, the LA Unified superintendent, told LA School Report, referring AB 375. “It neither strengthened nor weakened the current law. In other words it does not help. I look for legislation that makes it easier for districts to dismiss teaches who harm students quickly and cost effectively.”
Bill Lucia, CEO of Ed Voice, a grassroots nonprofit group, is urging Brown to veto the new law, calling it “unsafe for children” and saying it would increase “the likelihood that perpetrators will negotiate a buyout and a hall pass to inflict child abuse again in another California public school.”
Buchanan’s bill evolved from SB 1530, which was introduced last year and never made it out of an Assembly committee, thanks to a two Democrats voting against it and four abstaining — as well as heavy lobbying by the California Teachers Association.
The bill would have given school boards the authority to suspend without pay a teacher or administrator who is notified of dismissal for conduct involving sex abuse, drugs or violence toward children. It would also have given school boards, not a panel — the final authority over dismissals.
One Assembly member who abstained from the voting was Betsy Butler, who was narrowly defeated last year by Richard Bloom, the former mayor of Santa Monica.
Running as an underdog, Bloom had blasted Butler’s abstention, telling LA School Report last year: “I’ve never done that in 13 years of being a public official. I think it’s our responsibility as elected officials to register our opinions and have discourse on them. That’s what public discourse is about.”
But this time, Assemblyman Bloom abstained from AB 375, which had been held up in committee, only to resurface and reach the Assembly floor last week in the final legislative session, a time lawmakers usually scramble to approve bills before the deadline.
“AB 375 was significantly amended and passed out of one committee, then moved on to another committee where, a day before the Assembly and Senate votes, it received a favorable vote,” said Bloom. “While advocates for the measure were certainly prepared, there was virtually no time for school boards, community activists, or anyone other than insiders to evaluate and comment on the reformulated bill.”
Bloom said he scrambled to do his own research and found mixed assessments, with some calling the measure a “modest step forward,” while others told him that “limits on depositions, time constraints on investigations and other factors, would make it harder, not easier, to discipline those accused of heinous acts like child molestation.”
In the end, Bloom simply didn’t feel comfortable voting one way or the other.
“Given that neither I nor my staff had the time to independently evaluate these conflicting views I decided that I could not support the bill, but was not comfortable, at that point, in voting “No'” he said. “My abstention had the same effect as a “no” vote.
“I remain concerned that the legislature has unwittingly passed a bill that would make it more difficult to discipline a teacher like Mark Berndt. I think that result, if accurate, is unconscionable.“
Berndt is a former third grade teacher who is awaiting trial on charges that he molested more than 20 students over five years.
The bill awaiting Brown’s signature has unambiguously good news for a certain category of teachers in California public schools: It codifies compliance with a 1966 U.S. Supreme Court decision that being a member of the Communist party cannot be grounds for dismissal.