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October 1, 2013
Editorial: Teacher dismissal bill deserves veto

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(Oct. 1 -- By the Editorial Board)

California has a cumbersome and costly teacher dismissal process. But efforts at reform have consistently been beaten back by the powerful California Teachers Association.

This legislative session was supposed to be different.

The case of Mark Berndt, a Miramonte Elementary School teacher in the Los Angeles Unified school district, was in the public eye. Berndt stood accused of feeding his students spoonfuls of his semen and semen-laced cookies, with photos showing him feeding blindfolded students, ages 6 to 10. He has been charged with committing lewd acts on 23 children from 2005 to 2010.

Yet LA Unified had to settle with Berndt - pay to get him out of the classroom - because of California's deeply flawed dismissal process.

Virtually everyone agrees that California needs a better law for dismissing teachers. It is possible to assure due process for accused teachers while getting non-performing or abusive teachers out of the classroom. But Assembly Bill 375 doesn't accomplish this. Gov. Jerry Brown should veto this bill and insist on a do-over.

AB 375 got so watered down in the legislative process that it now actually makes it more difficult for school districts to dismiss a teacher accused of unprofessional or immoral conduct - such as sexual harassment, causing bodily injury to students or staff, or financial misconduct.

Despite adamant opposition to AB 375 from California school boards and school administrators, this bill got through and now sits on the governor's desk.

The most egregious elements would make it more difficult for a school district to collect evidence and present a case.

Among other things, AB 375 would:

Limit the number of witnesses who can testify to five. School districts may depose the accused teacher plus four additional witnesses. In the Berndt case, that would have prevented the school district from getting depositions from all the students in his class.

Prohibit a school district from introducing testimony or evidence uncovered during the investigation after the process has started. In a case where children only come forward after others have stepped up first, that means a school district either would have to throw out the case and start over (running up costs and time) or pay the teacher to resign.

Add a new process to challenge immediate suspensions on technicalities. This would delay teacher suspensions in cases of heinous conduct with children.

AB 375 would place so many barriers on the teacher dismissal process that districts would be even more likely than under today's flawed law to settle to get the teacher out of the classroom. That risks innocent children and adults in other districts that unknowingly hire that teacher.

The California School Boards Association calls AB 375 a "good bill for bad teachers." Gov. Brown, veto this bill and urge lawmakers to rework the teacher dismissal process in the next session.

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