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California judge approves landmark settlement in teacher layoff case

Los Angeles County Superior Court [official website] Judge William F. Highberger approved a settlement on Friday effectively limiting the use of seniority in layoffs in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) [official website]. The class action suit against the State of California [official website] and LAUSD was originally filed [text, PDF] in February 2010 by the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California (ACLU/SC) [official website] and attorneys at Morrison & Foerster, LLP [official website] on behalf of California students. The class action suit accused the state of violating the California Constitution [text] by failing to provide equal opportunity in education and violating the privileges and immunities clause by adhering to a "last-hired, first-fired" layoff policy. The attorneys argued that policy was responsible for the firing of effective teachers which decimated the educational quality at the Plaintiff's schools. The parties reached a settlement agreement [text, PDF] in October which will prevent budget based layoffs in 45 schools whose educational quality would suffer from teacher turnovers and ensure that no school will experience greater turnover than the district average of layoffs that year. It also calls for the state to hire teachers that meet quality requirements and retention incentives to attract teachers and principals. Catherine Lhamon [official website], director of impact litigation at Public Counsel Law Center [official website] praised the decision [press release]:

Judge Highberger literally changed the educational lives of tens of thousands of LA kids, promising them they won't have to carry the budgetary pain of the school district and instead can expect a chance to learn when they go to school. As bleak as the State's financial crisis is, the good news today is that Judge Highberger restored the promise that all kids should be equal at school.
The United Teachers of Los Angeles announced [text, PDF] their plan to appeal the settlement, arguing that the settlement does not address the systemic problems at hard-to-staff schools.

Challenges to teacher tenure rules have increased as States face budget problems. On Wednesday, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie [official website] expressed his desire to end teacher tenure based on seniority [ABC report] as a part of his school reform plans. Instead, Christie proposes to base tenure on classroom performance. Critics, including the state teachers union, however, think Christie is moving too quickly with such reforms, and should instead be a gradual process.

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