Korematsu Center defends teacher protections in California case
September 17, 2015
State laws that protect teachers from arbitrary or discriminatory dismissal should be retained because they help students, especially those in underprivileged schools, according to an amicus brief filed by our Fred T. Korematsu Center for Law and Equality, the American Association of University Professors, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, and 17 award-winning California teachers. (Read the full brief here.)
"Teachers need the freedom to do their jobs without fear that addressing a controversial subject, or advocating for their students, could lead to retribution," said Professor Robert Chang, executive director of the Korematsu Center.
The groups filed the amicus brief with the California Court of Appeal, Second District, where the case Vergara v. California is currently on appeal. In June 2014, a Los Angeles Superior Court judge ruled that five California teacher tenure statutes violated students' civil rights by preventing the dismissal of bad teachers.
Seventeen award-winning California teachers signed on to the amicus brief, including Rebecca Mieliwocki, honored by President Obama at the White House as the 2012 National Teacher of the Year.
"Teacher tenure protections don't cast a cloak of invulnerability over teachers," said Charlotte Garden, litigation director for the Korematsu Center. "They simply require that teachers have due process, including adequate warning and a hearing, when they face dismissal."
The amicus brief states that the lower court erred by failing to recognize the many benefits of teacher protections for students, such as promoting teacher longevity, fostering mentor relationships, and allowing the freedom to try innovative teaching methods or to teach important, controversial subjects.
"This amicus brief demonstrates the public benefits of protecting teacher tenure, which supports teachers' ability to act in students' interests in presenting curricular material and advocating for students within the school system," said Risa Lieberwitz, general counsel for the American Association of University Professors.
Protection of teachers who try new pedagogical techniques is especially important in underprivileged schools, the brief argues, where students are likely to bring a tremendous range of skills and abilities to the classroom, and may also face a variety of external barriers to learning.
Law students from the Korematsu Center's spring 2015 amicus brief clinic contributed valuable research to the Vergara brief.
"The protections provided by tenure are a necessary component to effective teaching," said Michael Brown, who graduated in May 2015. "Without the protections, teachers would be subject to derisive politics that have no place in classrooms. In my view, tenure is essential to developing a dynamic and effective classroom environment, where students can thrive and engage in critical thinking."