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Katy Grimes

Ballot initiative would speed up dismissal process for egregious teacher misconduct

For several years, bills to streamline the dismissal process for teachers accused of egregious misconduct have failed in the Legislature.

Because of the legislative impasse, EdVoice, a Sacramento based, a non-profit educational reform group, has proposed ballot measure to change this.

The name says it all: The “Stop Child Molesters, Sexual Abusers and Drug Dealers From Working In California Schools Act” proposes to put an end the often years-long teacher dismissal process involving armies of lawyers, voluminous paperwork, and the exorbitant cost – often millions of dollars, paid by taxpayers, to try and convict the perpetrators of egregious misconduct to school children.

How does this happen?

In 2011 Senate Bill 1530 by Sen. Alex Padilla attempted to streamline the teacher dismissal process. The introduction of the bill followed a sex abuse scandal involving a Los Angeles teacher whose school district paid him to resign, rather than terminate him because of the extraordinarily lengthy dismissal process.

But the California Teachers Association fought hard to kill it. “SB 1530 guts teacher due process rights by removing the accused employee’s ability to be heard before a neutral panel and replacing it with an advisory-only hearing before a single administrative law judge,” the CTA said on its website. The CTA said SB 1530 threatened teachers’ legal protections.

A similar bill by Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan, D-Alamo, made it all the way through the Legislature in 2013, and even garnered CTA support at the end of the legislative session.

But Assembly Bill 375 was vetoed by Gov. Jerry Brown.

The governor said in his veto message that the bill “may do more harm than good.” Brown said he was concerned about limiting the number of depositions to five per side, regardless of circumstances.

While AB 375 would have applied to many more teacher dismissal cases, bill opponents argued it didn’t go far enough to simplify and clarify the dismissal process to ultimately protect children.

President and CEO of EdVoice, Bill Lucia, said AB 375 would have limited the ability of school districts to expeditiously and definitely dismiss teachers charged with egregious misconduct.

Initiative closes loopholes

Current teacher dismissal law has significant loopholes, which are easily exploited by school employees accused of misconduct. The EdVoice initiative addresses these loopholes:

“School employees perpetrating egregious misconduct in California have exploited loopholes to delay and conceal dismissal proceedings manipulating school districts to pay –off, reassign, enter into agreements to expunge evidence of egregious misconduct from district personnel files.”

Censorship of facts and evidence would come to an end. School districts are currently not allowed introduce evidence of previous employee conduct that occurred more than four years before the date of the current dismissal notice.  The initiative changes that: “evidence of egregious misconduct shall not be excluded based on the passage of time.”

EdVoice’s ballot proposal would apply only to “egregious” cases of teacher misconduct, involving sexual child abuse, drug crimes, and crimes against children, but would not change the law concerning most of the teacher dismissal cases over poor performance.

And, the initiative proposes to allow the unlimited introduction of evidence and ability to amend charges at any time.

The other important area the initiative addresses is the makeup of the three-person dismissal panel. Currently the panel is made up of one administrative law judge, one person selected by the teacher, and one person selected by the district. The initiative would eliminate dismissal hearings by the three-person Commission on Professional Competency and replace it with a hearing before one administrative law judge.

The administrative judge’s decision would be final, subject only to appeal in Superior Court.

There is currently a four-year limit on keeping charges against teachers and administrators in their personnel files; the initiative proposes doing away with this limit.  It would also allow charges to be filed against them during the summer. Padilla’s and Buchanan’s bills also addressed this.

However, the initiative would go further than Padilla’s and Buchanan’s bills in speeding up trials by giving top priority to hearings on “egregious” misconduct charges, as well as requiring them to stay on schedule.

Finally, school districts would be prohibited from cutting any deals with teachers to remove evidence of egregious misconduct from employee records.

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