New California law lets schools fire teachers for 'egregious misconduct'

SACRAMENTO Calif. Wed Jun 25, 2014 6:52pm EDT

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SACRAMENTO Calif. (Reuters) - California Governor Jerry Brown on Wednesday signed a law adding "egregious misconduct" to the list of fireable offenses for public school teachers, weeks after a judge said it was too hard to fire incompetent teachers in the most populous U.S. state.

Both houses of the legislature unanimously passed the law just days after a Los Angeles Superior Court judge court ruled that laws granting tenure and other job protections to teachers were unconstitutional, leading to a denial of equal rights to children in poor neighborhoods as incompetent teachers were transferred to less desirable locations.

"We all agree that the current dismissal appeal process takes too long and costs too much money," said Democratic assembly member Joan Buchanan, the law's author, when the measure passed the legislature. But the law does not address how to handle incompetent teachers, a major focus of the court decision.

Inspired by the case of a Los Angeles Unified School District teacher sent to prison after pleading no contest to charges including feeding students cookies laced with his own semen, the new law adds "egregious misconduct" to the state's list of fireable offenses, which already includes immoral or unprofessional behavior.

On June 10, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Rolf M. Treu ruled that five California laws violated the U.S. Constitution. The judge objected to protections such as granting tenure after two years on the job and requiring that junior teachers be laid off first during cutbacks.

With similar laws protecting teachers in other states, the court ruling is a major setback for teacher unions that could have national implications. It came in response to a lawsuit complaining that protections hurt poor and minority students by effectively funneling incompetent teachers to schools in disadvantaged areas at disproportionate rates.

The administration of Democratic Governor Jerry Brown has still not said whether it will appeal the ruling.

(Reporting by Sharon Bernstein; Additional reporting by Jennifer Chaussee; Editing by David Gregorio)

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