“I’m going to get you FIRED!” The kid spat the words at his teacher, his face contorted into an angry snarl.
What did the teacher do to provoke such a violent outburst? Usually, it is called “teaching.” Perhaps the teacher asked the student to put away distracting items like their cell phone, or an electronic music device. It could have been a request to stop applying make-up or not to eat in class. Almost as often it would be to sit up and pay attention, not to sleep in class. And don’t forget about working on an assignment! Maybe the teacher committed the cardinal sin of asking the student to read a passage from the text, or work a math problem.
These are the main types of problems that get a teacher into trouble. All the student has to do is lodge a complaint that the teacher is “picking on them.” Too often, the teacher is of one ethnicity and the student of another. Then, it is “The teacher is racist.” In fact, racism is imbued in the teaching culture. Part of the curriculum for earning a teaching credential includes a course such as “Equity and Diversity in Education.” What does that mean? It is, as a professor who taught the course said with a straight face, “… to keep white teachers from feeling guilty about being white when teaching minority children.”
Governor Jerry Brown signed assembly Bill 215 (AB215), “Teacher Discipline and Dismissal,” into law on June 25, 2014. It takes effect on January 1, 2015. It has been cited as a fair way to expedite dismissal of bad teachers from the profession. As it is now, firing a bad public school teacher is said to be a very time-consuming and expensive process. The Bill’s stated intent is to shorten the time it takes, as well to specify categories for which dismissal is an appropriate response.
AB215, authored by Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan (D), focused on two points:
* Streamlining the dismissal appeal process
* Keeping students safe
The law is intended as a response to dealing with teachers accused of “egregious misconduct.” In fact, it does not address other issues that might lead to the dismissal of a teacher, such as incompetence. Such concerns are still dealt with by the current system. Under AB215, “immoral conduct” is defined as egregious misconduct, which encompasses acts that can be criminally charged as sexual abuse, child abuse and specific drug crimes. It establishes what is called a separate, streamlined hearing process for teachers (“employees”) accused of egregious misconduct. An administrative law judge, not a 3-person panel, can then conduct the hearings.
When a teacher is accused of “egregious misconduct,” they can be immediately removed from the classroom and placed on leave of absence while the accusation is investigated or criminal charges filed. This is no different from the way teachers are currently treated. Such leave may be paid, as during investigation, or unpaid as after a hearing has been held. This is where the point about “student safety” is emphasized, but the guidelines are so loose that virtually everything can be construed as a “safety issue.”
Did the teacher silently look at noisy pupils to prompt them to be quiet? Using “the look” was a well-established and encouraged part of teaching practice. Today though, a pupil can file a complaint that the teacher is “scary.” That makes it a safety issue and under the new law the teacher can be immediately removed from the classroom!
The time span for investigating allegations is not defined. It can be months, during which time the teacher is “housed” in a location away from the school where they taught. In the event the teacher is charged, his or her hearing is to commence within six months and the entire appeal process be completed within seven months. This part of the Bill is unclear: it appears to mean that a teacher can languish in “teacher jail,” or a “rubber room” for a year or even longer without being charged with anything, and with an uncertain limbo continuing for another seven months following a demand for hearing.
It is not obvious that this procedure is more “streamlined” than the dismissal process as it currently exists. This was one of the objections voiced by the Association of California School Administrators (ACSA) in opposition to AB215, in a September 12 letter to its members. In fact, ACSA pointed out that if the educator is targeted for dismissal for any reason other than “egregious misconduct,” the provisions of AB215 do not address it. Where, really, is the improvement?
Worse, what this new law does not do is to stop false claims by disgruntled pupils. It does contain a section dealing with wrongful charges brought by another school employee, but says nothing regarding lies told about a teacher by pupils. In fact, the only part of Buchanan’s Bill that even mentions students involves protection of their personal records held by the school! It specifies that any use of the records in the teacher’s dismissal hearing shall be in “executive session.” Executive session is undefined and nothing in the law clarifies whether or not a hearing is open to the public to begin with. In the extreme, this prohibition might even be used to prevent a pupil’s record of bad conduct in school from being introduced as evidence at all! A point in fact: if a student files a police report against his or her teacher, whether the allegations are proven true or shown to be false, the teacher may be denied a copy of the report from the police agency to be used in their own defense. They would need a court order to obtain the report, and then only if it is part of an on-going legal matter.
This troubling law allows the presumption that a teacher is guilty of charges, be they “egregious misconduct” or “unsatisfactory performance” merely due to allegations by another party. Proof is not necessary for the teacher to be removed from the classroom and a notification letter sent to the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing. Does a principal wish to get rid of a teacher at their school? All they have to do is claim that a teacher is endangering student safety in some way – that is the “egregious misconduct” part — and the teacher is subject to dismissal. The teacher is restricted from examining his or her own personnel file. They are banned from the campus, they often may not talk with other personnel from their school and they are prohibited from contacting any pupils.
So even though teachers charged with misconduct are prevented from gathering information for use in their own defense, the dismissal process under AB215 is described as “fair.” Teachers’ unions endorsed Governor Jerry Brown when he campaigned for office, yet he signed this bill into law. What was this man thinking?
The actions of a few bad teachers has caused the public perception of teachers to be poor; perhaps not as poor as the politicians who craft the indecipherable laws to begin with, but not much better. Teachers are seen as only working six-hours per day with numerous holidays, and spring, winter and summer vacations! They get tenure – correction, under the Vergara Decision, they had tenure — they have union protection and a guaranteed salary. What could be finer? Assemblywoman Buchanan’s bill panders to this perception, and we will explore it in upcoming articles.
In fact, most teachers are dedicated professionals whose careers are constantly on the line. Union protection is often an illusion, untold hours are spent in correcting schoolwork, and constant frustration is experienced in dealing with frequently changing, “fad-type” pedagogical methods. Teachers can handle those problems, and they do. The problem that defies solution is the lack of accountability by students who are allowed to drift through school, refusing to study and disinterested in their lessons. When they fail, it is not the pupil, but the teacher who is blamed. Notice that such pupils are able to prompt the removal of a dedicated, competent instructor from the classroom on their claim, only. Do an online search using the phrase “How to get your teacher fired.” You will find video “tutorials” on how pupils – from elementary school up – are able to have a teacher dismissed without any negative consequences to themselves.
Oh, wait: There are negative consequences – these kids can’t read, can’t write a complete and properly spelled sentence, and can’t solve simple math problems – but these details don’t seem to matter 97% of the time! Why should they care about the other “4%?”
Pict – shoot-a-teacher 10-14
Editor’s Note: Jay L. Stern is a credentialed chemistry teacher within Los Angeles Unified School District. A graduate-level chemical engineer, he has been teaching for over nine years. He is presently “housed” due to allegations made by a student. This is the first article in a series detailing the abuses public school teachers endure while attempting to educate your little “darlings.” We encourage debate. Send comments, criticisms – even praise – to North Valley Reporter.com
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