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Vergara appeal (or not) divisive issue for Torkalson and Tuck

Vanessa Romo | August 29, 2014

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torlakson and tuck vergara

Tom Torlakson (left), Marshall Tuck (right)


The lower court’s final ruling in the Vergara case has pushed it into the race for State Superintendent of Public Instruction as the latest proxy fight between supporters of reform and protectors of the status quo.

Tom Torlakson, the incumbent, is urging the state to appeal.

Marshall Tuck, the challenger, is urging the state not to appeal.

“While the statutes in this case are not under my jurisdiction as state Superintendent, it is clear that the Court’s ruling is not supported by the facts or the law,” Torlakson said in a statement today. “Its vagueness provides no guidance about how the Legislature could successfully alter the challenged statutes to satisfy the Court. Accordingly, I will ask the Attorney General to seek appellate review.”

Earlier today, Tuck put out his own statement, saying, “Now that the Vergara ruling is official, my opponent State Superintendent Tom Torlakson and other Sacramento insiders should do the right thing for California kids and drop any plans to appeal the ruling.”

Efforts to learn what California Attorney General Kamala Harris intends were not immediately successful. The state has until Oct. 27 to file an appeal. (The LA Times reported Saturday that the state filed an appeal on Friday.)

Superior Court Judge Rolf Treu‘s final ruling in Vergara vs. California, released yesterday, affirmed his decision in June that five California laws governing teacher tenure, seniority and dismissal violate the state constitution by denying students access to a quality public education.

As a political issue, it creates another fault line in education policy, dividing proponents of reform who are seeking to hold teachers more accountable for classroom success and those who view the court ruling as another assault on public school teachers, whose jobs are difficult enough with crowded classrooms, larger numbers of students from poverty and growing numbers of students who don’t speak English.

It’s ideally suited for a statewide election in which the challenger has a background in the reform movement and the incumbent is a strong union supporter.

“I applaud the nine students who took a courageous stand for all of California’s kids,” Tuck said of the Vergara plaintiffs. “But the truth is, no student should ever have to go to court to get a quality education – and no elected official should ever put bureaucratic laws ahead of students’ interest.”

Torlakson, who was named a defendant in the case and is supported by the teachers unions that joined Vergara as co-defendants, was widely expected to favor an appeal.

“School districts have always had the power to dismiss those who do not measure up, and this year I helped pass a new law that streamlined the dismissal process, while protecting the rights of both teachers and students.It is disappointing that the Court refused to even consider this important reform,” he said.

Prior to the final ruling Torlakson had remained vague about his intentions regarding an appeal. The deadline on filing means he must make a decision before the November 4 election, making it an obvious issue for Tuck.

Already, he has. His staffers are citing polls conducted in the aftermath of the Vergara trial that suggest voters agree that the state’s two-year tenure period is too short to determine whether a teacher is truly effective and that the dismissal process for ineffective teachers is too long and expensive for public school districts.

Further, he has created an online petition to engender public support to urge the state to drop any plans to defend “a failing system in need of major change” by appealing the Vergara ruling.

*Adds LA Times report, saying the state has appealed.

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