John Cádiz Klemack
Nine students sued the state of California saying budget cuts force schools to maintain low-performing teachers. The case was opened in court Monday. John Cádiz Klemack reports from downtown LA for the NBC4 News at 6 p.m. on Monday, Jan. 27, 2014.
Arguments began Monday in a highly anticipated lawsuit that challenges statutes in California Education Code that provide job protections for teachers.
Vergara v. California: Read the Complaint
Plaintiffs in Vergara v. California, including students and their famliies, attended Monday's morning's proceedings in a downtown Los Angeles courtroom. Their attorneys will argue that California's code regarding tenure, seniority and dismissal of teachers does not ensure access to adequate education and violates the U.S. Constitution.
A Los Angeles County Superior Court judge will hear arguments from attorneys who filed the lawsuit on behalf of nine students -- including Los Angeles Unified School District 10th-grader Beatriz Vergara -- and their families. Los Angeles Unified School District Supt. John Deasy will be among the witnesses called by the plaintiffs, according to the lawsuit's lead attorney Theodore J. Boutrous, who was part of the legal team that helped overturn Proposition 8, California's ban on same-sex marriage.
"The system is dysfunctional and arbitrary," said Boutrous. "Outdated laws handcuff schools administrators from operating in a fashion that protects school children and their rights to equality of education."
During Monday's proceedings, Boutrous said the laws "disproportionately burden poor and minority students, students who are in suspect classes."
Dozens of states have moved in recent years to either abolish or toughen the standards around giving teachers permanent employment protection and seniority-based preferences during layoffs. Eliminating such laws is erasing a vital support system for a profession that is already losing talented people to higher paid positions in the private sector, unions have argued.
"The lawsuit is without merit," Josh Pechthalt, president of the California Federation of Teachers, told LA School Report. "It ignores the real problems of education and demonizes teachers and teachers unions for the perceived problems of public education."
Backers of the job protections provided by state education code called the lawsuit misguided.
The lawsuit, sponsored by the nonprofit Students Matter, was filed in 2012 against the state of California and the California Department of Education. In the 2012 complaint, the plaintiffs argued the "handful of outdated laws" limit how administrators make employment decisions.
The ruling after the 20-day trial could mean sweeping changes for school districts throughout the state.