Agreement Will Lead to Improved Protection of Children in Public Schools

A variety of contending interest groups have finally come together to support legislation that will streamline discipline procedures for public school teachers and other permanent employees accused of sexual abuse and other serious crimes while still respecting due process.

The compromise was reached this week between the Assembly Education Committee, California Teachers Association and Ed Voice, an education advocacy group which is sponsoring an initiative campaign to enact changes in the current labyrinth-like process.

The agreement creates a procedure which follows more closely the safeguards employed by Catholic schools in cases of alleged abuse and the California Catholic Conference will testify in support of AB 215 (Buchanan, D-Alamo) which contains the blueprint for the new procedures.

Governor Brown has also signaled his support after he vetoed a similar bill last year. In his vetoed message, however, he stressed his support for the concept and encouraged some changes that would allow him to sign a restructured bill.

The heart of the matter stems from an overly complicated public school teacher dismissal process used in California.

Teachers are suspended, often with pay, as their case winds through the system.   Because cases can drag on for years, they are often settled with a stipulation that no information be submitted to authorities who could revoke a teacher’s credential. As a result, teachers with credible allegations of wrongdoing may essentially continue teaching in another school district.

This week’s agreement instead fast tracks discipline proceedings for cases involving sexual abuse, lewd conduct and certain drug offences. Proceedings must begin within 60 days and be completed within seven months. A single judge, as opposed to a three-person panel, will hear the case and issue a binding agreement (which is appealable to Superior Court.)

It also changes some of the more unusual aspects of the process. For instance, it now makes it clear teachers can be suspended without pay and, if found guilty, be dismissed between the months of May and September – something that is not possible now.

California’s legislature has been trying to grapple with the issue for several years but dealing with the various special interests has been difficult. Education officials knew they must improve the process after several high profile cases in public schools so the efforts continued.

For example, another bill was introduced this year by Sen. Lou Correa (D-Orange) which would also streamline the process. SB 843 is backed by the California School Board Association while AB 215 is supported by the California Teachers Association. Both bills, however, could effectively address the issue and both are supported by the Conference.

Should AB 215 pass and be signed, Ed Voice has said it will suspend its initiative campaign. (The end of June is the deadline to finalize the ballot.) Most observers believed the measure would have easily passed providing additional reason for all parties to reach agreement.

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