Amid revelations last year of the scandal enveloping the Los Angeles Unified School District over the long careers of criminally abusive teachers such as former Miramonte Elementary School instructor Mark Berndt — and news about how difficult it was for districts to remove such laggards from classrooms — California legislators had a chance to do right by our children. This could have been done by passing Senate Bill 1530, which would have allowed districts to remove teachers accused as well as convicted) of criminally abusing children. But four state assembly members, at the urging of the National Education Association’s and American Federation of Teachers’ Golden State affiliates, successfully blocked its passage by not voting for the bill. [Two others were at least honest enough to publicly vote against it.] Meanwhile Gov. Jerry Brown took no action to back the bill or to get legislators to do the right thing. The public outrage was so fierce that one of the gang of four, Betsy Butler, lost her seat that November to former Santa Monica mayor Richard Bloom.
So the state legislature had another opportunity to do the right thing for kids by passing a law making it easier for districts to remove criminally abusive teachers. In fact, the legislature could have easily took the language from SB 1530 and passed it in another bill. But this being California, and the legislature being beholden to the NEA’s and AFT’s affiliates, they didn’t do anything of the sort. Instead, Golden State legislators passed Assembly Bill 375, which will actually make it even harder for districts to remove alleged and convicted child abusers who find their ways into positions of trust in our schools. [Butler’s successor, Bloom, by the way, voted for the bill in August, but didn’t offer any vote when the final version was approved last week.] Gov. Brown, whose miserable failures on this and nearly every other aspect of education policy has been chronicled by this publication, especially in this week’s Dropout Nation Podcast on education leadership, has an opportunity to finally do the right thing for kids by vetoing this bill. He should take it up with gusto.
Under AB 375, which was sponsored by Assembly Education Committee Chairwoman Joan Buchanan (who voted against passage of SB 1530), the process for removing criminally abusive teachers would last just seven months instead of as long as seven years under the lengthy current process. But as a favor to NEA and AFT affiliates, AB 375 only allows a district to provide the testimony of four abused children (and five witnesses altogether) who can testify on behalf of the district against a teacher.[Accused teachers can only provide testimony from five witnesses as well.] While supporters of the bill argue that limiting witness testimony will help speed up the process, it actually works against due process both for children in schools (who are the victims and for who the district is essentially representing in removal proceedings) and even for alleged perpetrators themselves. More importantly, because the administrative law judge has plenty of leeway under the bill to extend the proceedings beyond the seven-month period for the nebulous “good cause” (instead of for “extraordinary circumstances” as required under SB 1530), it could still take years before a district successfully removes a criminally abusive teacher from the classroom. Which would end up giving districts no incentive to do the right thing by children in their care.
Meanwhile AB 375 further stifles districts from preventing them to amend a dismissal complaint in order to include new charges and evidence of abuse that often come out after a teacher’s acts become publicly known. This means that a district that learns of even more-heinous criminal behavior during the period the teacher had served cannot bring up information that is relevant to the case itself. There’s also the fact that the rules governing who can sit on the three-member panel used to hear cases still requires that one person is a teacher who works in the same subject area and grade as the criminally abusive teacher; as Bill Lucia, the president of school reform group EdVoice points out in a letter to Brown this week calling for the veto, this rule means that an English teacher can’t sit on a case involving criminal abuse by a kindergarten teacher even though subject matter has nothing to do with cases involving alleged and proven criminal (and moral) misbehavior.
These problems alone should lead Brown to veto AB 375. At the same time, there are three other reasons why he shouldn’t sign this bill. The first: The bill essentially makes a mockery of the California constitution’s own promise that the state will provide children with schools that are “safe, secure and peaceful” because it doesn’t fulfill it. Constitutions are not merely laws, but covenants between governments and the people who live within states, and the promises within them should be honored properly. The second reason: It would be immoral for Brown to do anything but veto it. For far too long, the state, along with NEA and AFT affiliates, have backed state laws that effectively make it almost impossible for districts to fulfill their moral obligation to remove those teachers who have engaged in criminal neglect and abuse of children in their care. Allowing AB 375 to come into law would be morally repulsive, intellectually dishonest, and abhorrent violation of one’s obligation to their fellow men, women, and children.
The third reason: It is an opportunity for Brown to prove that he and his fellow Democrats who control state government aren’t so beholden to the NEA and AFT that they will do anything they demand. For all of Brown’s pretensions of being independent, the governor and his allies, including Supt. Tom Torlakson, have proven all too willing to do traditionalist bidding. This was clearly displayed last week when Brown announced that he would sign Assembly Bill 484, which would eviscerate all but four of the Golden State’s tests (and thus, effectively ending accountability in the state that is needed to help all children get high-quality teaching and comprehensive curricula). And after the move this past April at the state Democratic Party convention to condemn fellow Democrats in the party who are at the vanguard of reforming American public education, the California branch of the Democratic National Committee has proven to be nothing more than a collection of cowards willing to ignore their moral and political obligation to kids in exchange for the coffers of teachers’ union bosses and their allies in traditional districts.
Gov. Brown has one more chance this year to do the right thing by California’s children. Vetoing AB 375 would be that good thing.
Photo courtesy of the Associated Press.