One of the more unsettling issues in K-12 education is how we deal with teachers who harm children. Because most teachers are committed, caring professionals, we are all the more shocked and betrayed when we learn of a teacher who poses a threat to students. It’s as if our sense of safety and order has been pulled from under us.
Sadly, when these rare incidences occur, the policies in place to deal with them are paralyzing. It may take years to permanently remove a teacher accused of “serious and egregious” conduct from the classroom and payroll. Often the teachers in these cases reach agreements that prohibit the reporting of the misconduct. In these cases, the bad actors are rewarded with silence and delays, and for the victims—the children and their families—justice is not served.
In the past few years, several bills in the Legislature have attempted to repair the flaws in our state’s teacher dismissal process. While they contained provisions intended to streamline the removal process for bad teachers, they missed the mark.
Last year, the California School Boards Association (CSBA) asked Gov. Jerry Brown to veto one of those bills. While well-intentioned, it would have created more roadblocks to removing bad actors from the classroom. The veto of that bill came with the governor’s invitation for the Legislature to work with stakeholders, such as CSBA, to come back with a better bill, and we have been working since then to find the best possible long-term solution to this serious problem.
We know that a strong and effective teacher dismissal bill must streamline the process for dismissing teachers in cases involving serious and egregious conduct such as child abuse, sexual abuse and other serious conduct that jeopardize student safety. It must make it more efficient and less expensive to remove any teacher posing a direct threat to student safety from the classroom in a fair and judicious manner. It must ensure that testimony and evidence of egregious conduct are not limited or restricted. It must put decisions in cases of serious and egregious acts and other charges, such as immoral conduct and being convicted of a crime of moral turpitude, in the hands of an administrative law judge (ALJ). Our best solution is offered in Senate Bill 843, introduced by Sen. Lou Correa, D-Santa Ana.
While it can currently take up to two years to complete hearings in these cases, SB 843 establishes that the decision by an administrative law judge be submitted within 12 months of an employee’s demand for a hearing—a period of time that is realistic and reasonable. It eliminates the current prohibition on the testimony or introduction of evidence on matters more than four years old for charges of serious or egregious conduct. It prohibits the practice of districts reaching agreement with teachers to expunge credible complaints from their personnel files and hold back reporting to the Commission on Teacher Credentialing.
With the current onerous and protracted dismissal process coupled with the prospect of paying the employee’s attorney’s fees if unsuccessful, districts often do not pursue charges against these few bad teachers, opting instead to settle. In the meantime, they continue to collect pay and may, in some cases, remain in contact with children.
It is time we focus our attention on a solution that targets the very few—but very dangerous—teachers who have no business in the lives of our children.
That said, SB 843 is not the only bill introduced this year aimed at reforming the teacher dismissal process. Two other bills are SB 1164, by Sen. Carol Liu, D-La Cañada Flintridge, and AB 215, by Assemblymember Joan Buchanan, D-Alamo. It was crafted without the involvement of the school officials who actually conduct these proceedings by a teachers union and a non-profit education advocacy organization backed by business groups. Those bills take a step in the right direction but fall short in a number of critically important areas. Because we are sincere in our commitment to a real solution, we have taken a position to support those bills if they are amended. Each year that passes without new protections for our children ensures avoidable tragedies. We have a chance to do this right and the time is now.
Solving this problem has become more than an “issue” for CSBA—it is a passion and mission. And while we have put our heart and soul into crafting what we believe is the best solution, our goal is not to win political victories but to achieve meaningful policy change that protects children. We want, first and foremost, for the Legislature to take action and deliver a strong and effective bill to the governor’s desk for his signature this year.
Josephine Lucey is president of the California School Boards Association.
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