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California Law Overhauls Teacher-Firing Process

California Gov. Jerry Brown has approved a bill that speeds up the state's process for firing teachers who are accused of criminal malfeasance—but it preserves a contested approach for all other instances. 

This is the third year running that such a bill has been considered; both the teachers' unions and advocacy organizations have variously supported or opposed two prior efforts

The finalized bill, signed into law June 25, carves out a third category for dismissals for "egregious misconduct," specifically teachers who are suspected of sexual misconduct, murder, or other serious crimes. Such teachers would be given 30 days to file an appeal, which would begin within 60 days. An administrative law judge would hear the case and issue a binding ruling.  

It's important to note that this process would not apply to teachers accused of "unprofessional conduct." When I queried the California Teachers Association about the distinctions between the two, an official told me: "A shop teacher who wears open-toed shoes to his shop class is engaging in unprofessional conduct, not serious and egregious conduct. It's not a nuance; those are two very distinct decisions." 

In all other cases, including unsatisfactory performance and unprofessional conduct, the bill attempts to speed up other due-process firings, by requiring hearings to begin within six months and to be completed within seven months. Previously, the timeline could extend to years. But the bill maintains the core feature of California dismissal—a hearing in front of a "commission on professional competence," staffed by two teachers and an administrative law judge. (School boards and administrators' groups have protested this process.)

The CTA has a good comparison of current and former law on its website.

What remains unclear is how this piece of legislation will dovetail with the recent ruling in Vergara v. California. In the ruling, Judge Rolf Treu said that California's dismissal procedings amounted to an "uber" due process and signalled that changes would be needed for the laws to pass constitutional muster. (The state's teachers' unions are appealing.) Would this reworked version pass muster? We'll have to stay tuned.

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