A bill sits on Jerry Brown's desk that might help predator teachers, maybe even an El Sereno Elementary School teacher who allegedly touched, fondled and kissed girls on the lips — and had been arrested in 2010 for sexual battery, child annoyance and lewd acts (but the DA dropped the charges because the evidence wasn't strong enough.)
Accusations against, and prosecutions of, teachers have become troubling and common news in L.A. schools. Last year, a bill to allow faster firings of alleged sexual abuser, drug abuser and physical abuser teachers, Senate Bill 1530, was killed under pressure from the California Teachers Association. Now, legislators have hatched Assembly Bill 375 to help rid schools of frightening teachers. Here's what they came up with:
Democrat Joan Buchanan pushed through AB 375, calling it a sensible reform.
But Jessica Hsiang Ng, regional press secretary for Students First, which fights for students' rights to a decent education, tells us that the bill actually makes it harder to dismiss teachers accused of immoral conduct.
She's praying Jerry Brown doesn't sign AB 375.
“California kids don't need a teacher dismissal bill they need a child protection bill,” Ng says.
Last year, state Sen. Alex Padilla of Los Angeles wrote SB 1530, a far tougher bill, but Buchanan voted against it and four other Democrats (Betsy Butler, Mike Eng, Das Williams and Wilmer Amina Carter) abstained, thus killing Padilla's bill.
See also, “Why California Democrats Protect Sex Abuser Teachers.”
Education reformers claim the Democrats feared the California Teachers Association, which vociferously opposed Padilla's reforms. Among things, CTA complained that teachers would have to cut short their vacations to respond to allegations of child abuse under his law.
SB 1530 focused on dismissing teachers accused of sexual abuse of children, drug abuse involving children and violence against children. Among other things, it would have allowed the use of evidence against teachers that was more than four years old.
By contrast, AB 375 prohibits the use of evidence more than four years old and places a new, seven-month time limit on school districts to bring a hearing against an accused teacher. Today the average time it takes districts to hold a hearing is eight to 14 months, meaning many sex abuse cases could fall between the cracks under AB 375.
“There's no average on these things,” says Dennis Meyers, executive director of government relations at the California School Board Association. “The Office of Administrative Hearings is so overworked. There is no capacity to do that [assure teacher hearings within seven months].”
In addition, AB 375's prohibition on evidence older than four years could exclude some egregious cases of teacher molestation reported in California in which teachers were abusing children over many years' time.
Another big problem, according to Students First, is that AB 375:
“… creates an unintended, perverse incentive for districts to delay the filing of dismissal charges. Districts have to get the charges exactly right before filing because they won't be able to add charges later that would prejudice the accused teacher.”
A third major group, the Association for California School Administrators, has also urged Brown to wield his veto pen. Wesley Smith, the group's executive director, said in a statement:
“Because of the timelines and procedural barriers contained in AB 375, it may compel school districts to pay a teacher to leave for immoral or unprofessional conduct rather than move to dismissal. This protects the adults over our students' safety.”
The CTA's bill also restricts the number of depositions against teachers to five witnesses. If the accuser acts as one witness, that means just four other victims or witnesses can tell their stories.
Meyers says this limitation is being promoted as a way to streamline the process.
Meyers says Brown has until Oct. 13 to sign or veto the bill.
Critics of the CTA say Buchanan's law is a case of a huge political special interest getting in the way of actually solving a problem.
CTA could not be reached for comment, but its president Dean E. Vogel issued a statement earlier this month:
“We wholeheartedly support a safe learning environment for our students. Passage of AB 375 addresses our concerns of keeping students safe, safeguarding the integrity of the profession, and protecting the rights of educators. Students and families in our communities can be reassured knowing there are immediate protections for students and a streamlined and shortened dismissal process to ensure charges against teachers are handled fairly and in a timely manner.”
[Update at 12:35 p.m. October 14]: The governor vetoed AB 375 on October 10, singling out two key sections of the law that gave him pause, probably in light of alleged serial sex-abuser cases involving classroom teachers in California that unfolded over time and involved multiple children.
“I am particularly concerned that limiting the number of depositions to five per side, regardless of the circumstances, and restricting a [school] district's ability to amend charges, even if new evidence comes to light, may do more harm than good.”
L.A. Supe John Deasy reacted to AB 375's veto, telling a blogger at LA School Report, “I appreciate the governor, in my opinion, making a wise decision. I hope that we can get a better bill as soon as possible in the next legislative session.”