By Lauren Hoye
On Monday, August 22, 2016, the highest state court in California, the California Supreme Court, voted 4 to 3 to decline hearing an appeal in a lawsuit challenging California’s teacher protection laws. In what is a major victory for teachers and teacher unions, the California Supreme Court ruled in Vergara v. California that it would not review the ruling of the court of appeals below, finding that California’s tenure, layoff and dismissal statutes were not unconstitutional.
In the litigation, which has been ongoing since 2012, two unions representing California teachers, the California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers, sought to maintain the existing tenure, layoff and dismissal statutes. An organization called Students Matter had challenged those statutes, alleging that the laws protecting teacher tenure and seniority were responsible for “grossly ineffective” teachers being assigned to the state’s highest poverty and minority schools. A trial court judge had agreed with Students Matter.
Earlier this year, a California appeals court struck down the trial court’s controversial ruling declaring those statutes unconstitutional. The appeals court, in a unanimous decision, held that the plaintiffs had not shown a constitutional violation. In particular, held the court of appeals, the challenged statutes “do not inevitably cause poor and minority students to receive an unequal, deficient education.” Students Matter asked that the California Supreme Court accept review of the decision of the court of appeals, but as set forth above, the California Supreme Court declined to do so, thus making final the decision of the court of appeals protecting teachers’ rights. The decision of the appeals court can be viewed here.