State Struggles with Teacher Firing Laws
article by California Teaching | April 19, 2012
In the wake of high profile teacher-sex scandals, California lawmakers have been trying to pass three bills making it easier to fire teachers who are accused of gross misconduct. However, after opposition from teachers unions, only one has cleared committee after one has failed to pass and the other has stalled.
Earlier it was reported that lawmakers sought to pass a law in response to the high profile teacher-student affair between James Hooker and Jordan Powers. The bill would have made it a felony for a teacher to have a relationship with a student regardless of whether they were 18 or not.
However, the bill was defeated on a vote of 3-0 by the Assembly Committee of Public Safety.
“The committee today stood up for predators and union bosses instead of students,” Assemblywoman Kristin Olsen, R-Modesto, who sponsored the bill said in a phone interview to The San Jose Mercury. “We will continue to work hard to make sure that California passes this bill or something similar.”
Opponents of the bill explained that it could potentially violate constitutional rights and free speech by targeting behavior of two consenting adults. At the same time they also worried that the bill would have a chilling effect on any sex-related communication and discussion in class.
“We have to protect free speech even if we don't like it,” Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, who chaired the committee said to The Sacramento Bee.
Additionally, two other bills have also been proposed addressing teacher misconduct.
The first, introduced by Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Los Angeles, won unanimous approval from Senate Education Committee. The bill proposes lifting current prohibitions on considering evidence of wrongdoing that dates back more than four years, but only in the case of serious misconduct involving sex, drugs and/or violence involving young children. The charges would then be reviewed by an administrative law judge, who would make recommendations to the school board for final decisions.
“We need to address the problem of serious misconduct when these awful things take place,” Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent John Deasy, who testified in favor of the bill, said to The Associated Press.
He continued, explaining that these issues are not isolated incidents, stating that since January 2003, 667 teachers have been cited for serious misconduct and only 82 of the cases resulted in dismissal.
“That does not even pass a reasonable smell test,” Deasy said.
The other bill, drafted by Sen. Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar, is broader in its scope and seeks to strip abusive teachers of their pensions and health benefits. It would also prevent disciplinary records from being removed from personnel files after any length of time. This bill is currently being held up in committee.
These two bills have been seen as reaction to two different cases of teachers accused of sexual abuse that made national headlines. Earlier this year, two teachers from Miramonte Elementary School were arrested on accusations of various accounts of sexual abuse and lewd acts toward children. The cases, however, were unrelated to each other.
In spite of this, all three bills have faced fierce opposition from teachers unions as well. Union representatives see these bills as reactionary measures that do not really solve any problems. Dean Vogel, president of the California Teachers Association, explained to the Los Angeles Times that the bills are just “legislation by headline,” and do not really protect students.
“We are making very broad changes that aren't remotely related to what the predicament is,” Vogel said to The Los Angeles Times.
Union reps also explain that the new laws would undermine a teacher’s due process, and should not be left to the school boards, due to them being highly politicized and under great pressure from angry parents and the community.
“All we're asking for is a degree of protection and due process,” Ken Tray, a representative from the California Federation of Teachers said to The San Francisco Chronicle.
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