Picking up pieces from two failed attempts to rewrite the law on teacher dismissals, the California School Boards Association will lead this year’s attempt to make it easier and less expensive to fire teachers accused of serious misconduct and sex crimes against children.
At a press conference Wednesday, the School Boards Association (CSBA) and Sen. Lou Correa, D-Santa Ana, presented Senate Bill 843. It would shorten the time it would take to fire a teacher accused of “egregious” misconduct, including sex crimes, abuse and immoral conduct, and expand the ability to gather more evidence to support the allegations. It would also give an administrative law judge the sole authority to hear those cases instead of the current setup of a three-person hearing commission that includes an administrative law judge and two educators.
“Sadly our current process to dismiss such predators in the classroom is usually bogged down by complex requirements that are unfair to the victim and the public,” said Correa. “Yes, let’s keep due process but let’s not forget the victims, the children.”
Last year, Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a bill (AB 375, by Joan Buchanan, D-Alamo) with some of the same provisions, calling it an “imperfect solution” with “procedural complexities” that could create “new problems.” Correa, the new bill’s author, and CSBA said they were responding to the governor’s invitation to pursue a better bill. Since CSBA had actually opposed AB 375 and lobbied Brown to kill it, it also has reshaped this year’s version more to its liking.
The California Teachers Association had supported AB 375 and vigorously and successfully fought a bill two years ago that CSBA backed. A spokesman on Wednesday said CTA had just seen the language of Correa’s bill and hadn’t yet taken a position. But the School Boards Association would appear to have extra leverage this year. Looming on the horizon is a possible initiative, now gathering signatures for the November ballot, sponsored by the nonprofit advocacy group EdVoice. Its key features are similar to Correa’s bill but the proposed “Stop Child Molesters, Sexual Abusers and Drug Dealers from Working in California Schools Act” has additional provisions that CTA won’t like. They include allowing school districts to pursue legal fees and most of the pay that teachers received while suspended from their jobs if districts subsequently win egregious-conduct cases.
CSBA will argue that, for teachers, the Correa bill is the better alternative. In a statement on Wednesday, Vernon Billy, CSBA executive director and CEO, said, “Let me be clear, SB 843 is not an anti-teacher bill but a pro-student safety measure that we hope the Legislature will embrace.”
Last year’s bill – which Buchanan, chairwoman of the Assembly Education Committee, authored – was a broader measure that would have streamlined the process for all dismissals, including those for poor performance, which comprise most of the cases that go before the three-person appeals panel, the Commission on Professional Competence. The EdVoice initiative and School Board Association’s bill are focused on cases of serious misconduct that, as Dennis Myers, CSBA assistant executive director for government relations, put it, “rattle the public the most.”
There have been a number of those in the past few years. EdVoice’s initiative lists 10 cases, from Los Angeles to the Bay Area, Sacramento and the Inland Empire, of teachers facing accusations of sexual assault and molestation of students, some involving multiple victims and extending over years. The latest charges surfaced last week, when Los Angeles police arrested a 47-year-old teacher in Bell on charges of sexual assaults that occurred 15 years earlier when he taught high school in Los Angeles.
Among its provisions, Correa’s bill would:
- Turn cases involving accusation of egregious, serious and immoral conduct over to an administrative law judge. A three-person commission, including two educators, one chosen by the district and one by the accused teacher, would continue to hear dismissal cases involving poor performance.
- Require that the administrative law judge decide the case within 12 months. Buchanan’s bill actually set a 7-month deadline, but CSBA argued this was too short and would have led to extensions.
- Allow the use of evidence of older charges of misconduct and abuse by eliminating the 4-year limit on maintaining information on past investigations in a teacher’s personnel file.
- Permit districts to file dismissal motions in the summer and remove time limits on gathering evidence and amending charges.
- Prohibit districts from expunging from teachers’ personnel files credible complaints and proven accusations of egregious misconduct. Districts would also have no leeway in notifying the state Commission on Teacher Credentialing, which has the power to revoke teaching permits, when a teacher is dismissed or suspended for egregious conduct. This provision would prevent districts from cutting a deal in which a teacher agrees to resign over accusations of misconduct, and then seeks a teaching job in an unsuspecting district,
John Fensterwald covers education policy. Contact him and follow him on Twitter @jfenster. Sign up here for a no-cost online subscription to EdSource Today for reports from the largest education reporting team in California.