The two plaintiffs for whom a closely watched California educational-equity suit is named testified in Los Angeles Superior Court Feb. 11, describing several of their former teachers as unable to control a classroom, disengaged from teaching, or well-intentioned but ultimately ineffective.
The testimony of Beatriz Vergara, 15, and her sister Elizabeth, 16, put a human face on a civil trial that has been dominated so far with the minutiae of obscure policies and complex research studies.
Vergara v. California seeks to overturn five sections of California education code relating to the state's processes for the tenuring, dismissal, and layoff of teachers on the grounds that they deny the plaintiffs the right to an adequate public education.
"He couldn't control his class," she said. "I couldn't hear anything because of how loud it was."
Her 7th grade history teacher, she said, had an anything-goes approach to the teaching, not intervening when students smoked marijuana or fooled around on laptops, and who also told Latino students that "they would clean houses for a living." And she had a 7th grade science teacher who referred to female students by names including "stick figure" or "whore."
Her sister's testimony was less dramatic but equally bleak.
"We didn't do anything, he didn't teach anything like how to structure an essay or how to analyze a story, what an English teacher is supposed to do," Elizabeth Vergara said when asked to describe instruction in her 8th grade English/language arts class. "Sometimes he'd even put movies on, ... We only read one chapter of a book that whole year."
Under cross examination, an attorney for the state's teachers' unions tried to poke holes in the two students' recollections of their teachers' skill. For instance, Beatriz confirmed that her math test scores dropped during her 8th grade year, despite having had an apparently effective teacher in that subject.
"And it went down even though you had a really good teacher, right?" attorney Eileen Goldsmith noted.
Under questioning, Elizabeth Vergara acknowledged that her 8th grade ELA teacher was sympathetic—but the teenager held her ground in portraying him as not effective.
"Did you feel like Teacher D cared about the students in your class?" Goldsmith asked Elizabeth.
"I think he cared too much," she answered. "I get he was a caring person, but I think he needed to focus more on leading us—for us to learn the subject, not on our feelings."
For daily coverage of the Vergara suit, make sure to check out L.A. School Report.
Reporting was made possible from live online streaming of the proceedings by the Courtroom View Network.
Photo: Beatriz Vergara testifies about her schooling experiences Feb. 11. Screen capture via CVN.