SACRAMENTO (CBS / AP) — The state Assembly on Wednesday passed a labor-backed bill that would make it easier to discipline and fire teachers accused of misconduct.
Lawmakers approved AB375 by Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan, D-Alamo, on a 51-12 vote, sending it to the Senate.
The bill would speed up the appeals process after a teacher is fired and add homicide charges to the list of offenses that can prompt a teacher’s removal. It would allow school districts to immediately remove a teacher accused of child or sexual abuse from the classroom.
The legislation was in response to the arrest of a teacher at a Los Angeles elementary school last year who was charged with 23 counts of engaging in lewd conduct with students. The Los Angeles Unified School District fired Mark Berndt, but he appealed and the district opted to pay him $40,000 to drop his challenge.
“We believe it’s a positive step forward for all types of dismissals,” Buchanan said before the Assembly vote.
The politically powerful California Teachers Association, which represents 325,000 California teachers, is backing AB375 after successfully fighting a similar proposal last year. The previous proposal would have expanded the authority of school boards to dismiss an instructor who is accused of violent, sexual or drug offenses involving children.
An administrative law judge would have issued a recommendation in such cases.
Republican Assemblyman Don Wagner of Irvine warned that a provision in AB375 requiring an appeal of an employee’s dismissal be completed in seven months is unrealistic because the bill doesn’t say what happens if no decision is made. He argued it would give teachers an incentive to drag out the appeals process.
“The bill has some good parts in it, no question about it,” Wagner said. “But don’t in anyway be surprised when you find it’s just as hard to fire the bad teachers.”
Under current law, teachers who are fired can appeal their case to a three-member disciplinary commission composed of a judge and teachers chosen by both sides. The process can take years to resolve and cost school districts hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Buchanan’s bill would still allow a panel of teachers and a judge to resolve dismissal disputes instead of giving districts the power to make a final decision.
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