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California says to appeal against teacher protection lawsuit

By Sharon Bernstein

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - California will appeal a controversial court decision that overturned some job protections for public school teachers and could change the way educators are hired and fired in the state, the office of Governor Jerry Brown said on Friday.

In a notice of appeal filed late on Friday and obtained by Reuters, the California Attorney General's office, with the backing of Brown, said the ruling must be reviewed by a higher court if it is to have statewide legal impact.

A Los Angeles Superior Court in June ruled five California laws meant to protect teachers' jobs by granting tenure and other job protections to public school teachers hurt students and are unconstitutional.

The ruling, a major setback for teacher unions that could also have national implications, came in response to a lawsuit filed by education reform groups on behalf of nine students. The groups alleged the job protections hurt poor and minority students by effectively funneling incompetent teachers to schools in disadvantaged areas at disproportional rates.

The ruling, which won praise from the Obama administration, comes amid intense debate over how to reinvigorate a U.S. public school system that leaves American children lagging counterparts in countries such as Finland and South Korea.

"The people who dedicate their lives to the teaching profession deserve our admiration and support," State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, who is running for re-election with backing from teacher unions, said in a statement earlier on Friday.

"Instead, this ruling lays the failings of our education system at their feet," he said.

In its notice of appeal, California said that lawyers for the students dismissed "key parties" from the case - "the school districts that actually implement the relevant statutes" through the hiring and firing of teachers.

It also said the court's decision scraps more than 90 years of education policy in a brief decision that "declined to provide a detailed statement of the factual and legal bases for its ruling."

The overturned laws include protections that require teachers with the least experience be laid off first during cutbacks, along with rules granting teachers tenure after two years on the job.

Manny Rivera, a spokesman for Students Matter, the group behind the lawsuit, said the group was "disappointed" by the state's decision and vowed to "fight to ensure that our education system serves in the best interest of our students."

(Additional reporting by Kellie Mejdrich in Los Angeles; Writing by Eric M. Johnson; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

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