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Final Vergara Decision Issued: Let the Appeals Begin

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By David Menefee-Libey and Charles Taylor Kerchner

Judge Rolf Treu has issued his final judgment in the case of Beatriz Vergara v. the State of California affirming his tentative decision that five state statutes regarding tenure and teacher employment violate the state's constitution.  The appeals process now begins.  The state and the California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers have 60 days to decide whether to appeal.  It is expected that they will.

The L.A. School Report quotes Jim Finberg, who represented the unions, saying that they expect to appeal, and he also expects the state to appeal.

In June, when Judge Rolf Treu announced his preliminary decision in the Vergara case, we called it a "crafty, limited decision."  We did expect that education activists of all stripes would argue that the decision was a big deal, and that they would use it for their own political ends

Treu's (pronounced Troy) "Tentative Decision"  was a terse 16 pages.  We had expected that Treu's initial decision would be revised and expanded.  It was not.  The final decision was virtually identical to the tentative one. 

Defendants' lawyers, who spoke to us in confidence because they were not authorized to speak publically about the matter, expressed pleasure that the final ruling was not expanded; because they thought that the short decision was more vulnerable on appeal. 

Back in June, Treu took on three issues, ruled on each, and briefly explained his legal reasoning for each ruling.  First, he threw out the California law requiring school districts to decide after only 18 months whether a teacher should be given permanent tenure.  Treu noted that the state's teacher "induction" program lasts two years, and tenure decisions before that can't be justified.

Second, Treu threw out the state's special due process rules for firing teachers.  He noted that all public employees in the state have due process protections, and the extra ones protecting teachers were too much. 

Third, Treu threw out the state's "Last In, First Out" law requiring that all layoffs be done on a seniority basis, saying that layoff rules must "consider" student impacts of layoffs "among other factors" that could include seniority."

In June, we raised eyebrows by saying that we believe that this decision was a loser for both sides.  We still do, and we'll have more to say on the matter in coming days.

(David Menefee-Libey is professor of politics at Pomona College)



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