Court backs union, sends LAUSD layoffs case back to judge
August 12, 2012 | By John Fensterwald | 7 Comments
Handing United Teachers Los Angeles a significant procedural victory, a state appeals court has overturned a landmark ruling challenging the contractual rights of teachers in Los Angeles Unified.
In 2010, Superior Court Judge William Highberger ruled that massive layoffs of teachers with limited or no seniority at three of the district’s lowest-performing middle schools had violated the constitutional right of students in those schools to an equal education. The layoffs of nearly two-thirds of the teachers in those schools had disrupted school improvement efforts and left students with substitute teachers for much of the year. Judge Highberger subsequently approved a settlement between the district and parents who brought suit that protected 45 schools from future teacher layoffs and required that no school in the district be disproportionately affected by a reduction in force.
But on Friday, with one judge dissenting, a three-judge panel of the 2nd District Court of Appeal ruled that Judge Highberger took an improper shortcut when approving a deal that violated the terms of the teachers’ contract. The court agreed with the union that it was entitled a full trial based on the issues raised in the lawsuit and sent the case back to Judge Highberger to conduct it. A third judge, in a dissent, ruled that Highberger had given sufficient attention to the issues and the union’s objections when he conducted a four-day hearing into the fairness of the settlement.
The two-judge majority didn’t decide whether Judge Highberger was correct in ruling that children’s fundamental right to an education can supersede the terms of a collectively bargained agreement; for now, the agreement in the Reed vs UTLA case, protecting the 45 schools from layoffs, will remain in effect.
However, the requirement for a full trial could significantly stretch out the time it would take to challenge a a seniority-based layoff. That’s why the lawyers for the parents in the Los Angeles case – Public Counsel Law Center and the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California – say they will appeal the latest ruling to the California Supreme Court. “Our Supreme Court has a long history of respecting the constitutional rights of schoolchildren, and we’re hopeful they will hear this case,” they said in a statement.
UTLA praised the Court of Appeal decision and criticized the settlement that the district made in the Reed case in a statement on its web site.”The Reed settlement has proven to be a failed experiment at most of the campuses involved because it does nothing to address the underlying issues at high-turnover schools. It has also severely harmed hundreds of additional schools, triggering widespread displacements and layoffs at non-Reed schools.”
Superior Court Judge William Highberger’s 2010 ruling in the Reed vs. UTLA case
2nd District Court of Appeal ruling overturning the settlement in Reed vs. UTLA