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Governor Signs Bill To Streamline Teacher Firings

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New law makes it easier for school districts to fire abusive and problem teachers. (Getty Images)

New law makes it easier for school districts to fire abusive and problem teachers. (Getty Images)

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation Wednesday making it easier for school districts to fire abusive teachers, capping an effort that gained momentum after a particularly egregious case of misconduct in Los Angeles highlighted how difficult it can be to remove problem teachers.

AB215 takes effect Jan. 1 after several failed attempts in recent years to overhaul statutes governing teacher dismissals.

The signing came just two weeks after a court struck down California’s teacher tenure laws and tossed out other statutes related to firing educators.

AB215 creates a separate, expedited firing process for teachers accused of egregious conduct, including sexual abuse and certain drug crimes. Such dismissals would be decided by an administrative law judge, rather than two teachers and a judge.

It also accelerates the appeals process for all dismissals.

Naj Alikhan, a spokesman for the Association of California School Administrators, says AB215 sets an unreasonable timeline for districts to handle cases and defines egregious conduct too narrowly. The association wanted more latitude to get rid of poor teachers or those accused of serious misconduct.

Brown had vetoed previous legislation involving the issue. The current bill marks a compromise between teachers unions and some education-reform groups.

It was inspired partly by the case of Los Angeles elementary school teacher Mark Berndt, who was accused of spoon-feeding semen to his students and other lewd acts before pleading no contest to 23 counts.

His case highlighted the hurdles school districts face in firing teachers, no matter how egregious their offense. The Los Angeles Unified School District paid Berndt $40,000 so he would drop the appeal of his dismissal.

EdVoice, an education reform group, put pressure on lawmakers to act by pushing a statewide ballot measure seeking to reform the dismissal process.

It would have been called the “Stop child molesters, sexual abusers and drug dealers from working in California schools act.” The group abandoned the initiative campaign to support AB215, which was carried by Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan, D-Alamo.

“We do think this is a comprehensive and balanced and much-needed reform to the dismissal process” for the most egregious cases, state Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Los Angeles, said while presenting the bill in the Senate.

Regarding tenure, a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge ruled June 10 that California’s laws governing teacher firing and hiring infringe on students’ rights to an equal education. Part of the ruling also overturned three laws outlining the procedures school administrators must follow before they can fire teachers for incompetence or criminal activity.

AB215 was proposed before that ruling, and no bills have been introduced yet to reform tenure rules in light of the decision.

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