Thursday, April 19, 2012

Union Busting in “Pro-Labor” California

In the wake of several recent sexual abuse allegations against Los Angeles school teachers and the mass public hysteria that followed, the California Legislature will consider three new laws that significantly reduce union protections for teachers. These union busting bills (SB 1530, AB 2028 and SB 1059) were set for hearing in the California legislature on April 18, 2012. According to the CTA website, SB 1059 would virtually eliminate Due Process rights for teachers.
SB 1530, sponsored by Sen. Alex Padilla, (Dem., Los Angeles), would give school boards the final decision over firing teachers facing  sexual, drug, and other serious misconduct charges, according to the Topics in Education (Toped) website. The three-person appeals board currently in place would be replaced by an administrative judge whose opinions would only be advisory. This would turn school boards into partisan judge and juries, thus making it much harder for teachers to defend themselves against frivolous or vindictive accusations. The bill would also allow districts to suspend teachers for virtually any “infraction” they deem unprofessional, thus, making it even easier for school boards to get rid of teachers who are outspoken, critical of district policies or active in their unions.

SB 1530 would also eliminate the current requirement that districts issue a 45-day notice to teachers facing disciplinary action and it would allow districts to suspend teachers without pay. Thus, teachers would lose the ability to know that charges have been filed against them and to prepare a defense. This might seem unnecessary—shouldn’t a teacher be aware if she has done something wrong? Not necessarily. Teachers are disciplined fairly regularly based on unsubstantiated accusations by students, parents and administrators. A teacher may be completely unaware that such accusations have been made and should have the right to defend herself and clear her name, something that would become difficult or impossible under SB1530.

SB 1059, sponsored by Bob Huff (Rep., Diamond Bar), would also quicken the firing process and give school boards the final say over firing teachers for misconduct and for unsatisfactory performance, Toped reports. It would also remove the 4-year statute of limitations on misconduct investigations in a teacher’s file.

CTA’s response to the Padilla bill can be seen here: sb1530Page1 sb1530Page2.

Making Schools Safer for Children?
Aside from the fact that these laws will make it easier to fire teachers and take away many due process rights necessary for them to defend themselves from arbitrary, vindictive and retaliatory disciplinary actions, they are redundant and unnecessary. School districts already have the right to discipline and fire teachers for infractions that harm students, jeopardize safety or otherwise undermine the educational process. What happened in Los Angeles (e.g., suspected serial molesters being allowed to stay in the classroom) was due to the laziness and incompetency of LAUSD investigators and administrators, not inadequate laws (see here, here and here).

Rather than pandering to public hysteria about a nonexistent epidemic of molesters in the classroom, lawmakers ought to consider how to make schools truly safer by focusing on safety issues that affect the majority of students. For example, California classes often have 35-40 students in them, making them unsafe for lab activities and reducing the ability of teachers to identify and address dangerous behavior or bullying. Similarly, the declining number of counselors and support personnel in California schools means that many students who are suffering from PTSD, depression, anxiety, grief and other emotional distresses are falling through the cracks. Aside from the tragedy that they are not getting the support services they need to feel safe and thrive at school, some of them could be also become dangers to their classmates if their conditions remain unidentified or treated.

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