LA Judge Holds Fundamental Right to Education Supersedes Teacher Tenure Laws

A Los Angeles Superior Court judge today struck down five California Education Code statutes, including ones related to teacher tenure requirements, as unconstitutional. The court’s ruling in favor of the nine public school student plaintiffs held that California’s teacher tenure and dismissal laws disproportionately affect disadvantaged students and therefore deny those students equal protection of the law. Specifically, Judge Rolf Treu ruled that Education Code Sections 44934, 44938(b)(1)-(2) and 44944 (dismissal of permanent teachers), 44929.21 (two year probationary period), and 44955 (layoff by seniority) violate the state constitution. Relying on past civil rights decisions such as Brown v. Board of Education (1954), the Los Angeles judge said that these provisions of the Education Code “impose a real and appreciable impact on students’ fundamental right to equality of education.”

Notably, the court applied a strict scrutiny standard to the analysis and determined that the State of California and the California Teachers Association did not meet their burden to demonstrate a compelling state interest justifying the statutes. The plaintiffs, however, met their burden of showing that these provisions “impose a disproportionate burden on poor and minority students” and violate the equal protection clause of the California Constitution. Equity Partner Mary Hernandez said this was the first time that, “a California court has interpreted the constitutional right to education in terms of access to quality and not just equal access to programs and services.”

The injunctive order invalidating the statutes has been stayed pending anticipated appeals of the decision.  Therefore, this decision has no immediate legal impact for school districts. “Whether this decision is reversed on appeal or not, this is a huge tremor in the world of education law,” said Managing Partner Bonny Garcia.

Garcia, Hernandez, Sawhney & Bermudez, LLP will closely follow this case for immediate updates for its clients.  A copy of the decision in Vergara v. California can be found here.