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Children in Class (file photo) – by Terry Miller
The judge who has ruled that California’s tenure protections for public school teachers are unconstitutional hails from Temple City. Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Rolf Treu graduated Temple City High in 1966 according to records obtained by this newspaper.
Tuesday last week, Judge Treu ruled in favor of nine students who sued the state saying tenure and seniority policies have made it virtually impossible to fire bad teachers. One of those students, Raylene Monterroza who testified was from Blair High school in Pasadena testified about a great teacher and one “grossly ineffective” teacher who”… made me afraid; it made me not want to try or show up to school, and it was basically an opportunity to learn wasted, and it really put me behind my peers.”
Lawyers for the teachers say the changes would allow the firing of teachers too easily. The decision will have a “significant impact on the way California hires and fires teachers and could spur changes in other states with strong tenure laws,” according to lawyers who fought for continued tenure.
Plaintiffs ProvideRiveting Testimony about the Harms They Have Suffered Due to Ineffective Teachers:
Beatriz Vergara: Was taught by a teacher who “call[ed] us stupid,” told us “we’re going to clean houses for a living,” and said that Latino students all “end up [as] ‘cholos.’”
Elizabeth Vergara: Had an English teacher who “didn’t teach us anything” and we only read “one chapter of [a] book the whole year.”
Raylene Monterroza: Lost “the best teacher I ever had” due to seniority-based layoffs.
Three Plaintiffs provided riveting testimony in a Los Angeles Superior Court courtroom in Vergara v. California, the groundbreaking education equality trial. Beatriz Vergara, Elizabeth Vergara, and Raylene Monterroza spoke of their experiences in the classroom dealing with ineffective teachers that were verbally abusive and indifferent-teachers who could not or would not teach them.
The three Plaintiffs testified before a crowded courtroom with their parents in the gallery supporting them. Beatriz and Elizabeth were examined by Plaintiffs’ lead co-counsel, Theodore J. Boutrous, Jr. Raylene was examined by Plaintiffs’ counsel, Enrique A. Monagas.
During the trial, which began on January 27, Plaintiffs have presented evidence of the substantial harms suffered by students as a result of California’s permanent employment, dismissal, and seniority-based layoff laws. Today’s testimony provided vivid examples of ineffective teachers in the education system and the harmful and direct impact that these teachers have had on the Plaintiffs.
Students Matter has released a video that features all nine Plaintiffs talking about their experience with bringing this extraordinary case to trial. To view the video, visit: https://vimeo.com/86161776
Testimony by Beatriz Vergara
Beatriz Vergara, a high school sophomore from Pacoima, California, was the first Plaintiff to testify today.
Beatriz, who attends Cesar Chavez Learning Academy in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), is the named Plaintiff in Vergara v. California.
When asked why she joined the case, Beatriz answered: “[E]ducation matters to me… I see education as a pathway to success in order to be something in the future.”
Beatriz was also asked to describe her experience with an effective teacher. In response, Beatriz beamed and stated: “I currently have my history teacher, and he’s always supporting, and he encourages students, and he brings history to life.” When asked if she enjoys history, she said: “Well now I do.”
During her testimony, Beatriz testified about her experience with three ineffective teachers: her sixth-grade math teacher; her seventh-grade history teacher; and her seventh-grade science teacher.
When asked by Mr. Boutrous why she believed her sixth-grade math teacher was ineffective, Beatriz testified about the classroom environment, saying:
“It was always loud in there and he would even sleep during class, he didn’t even teach, and he couldn’t control his class. I couldn’t hear anything because of how loud it was.”
Beatriz then spoke about the “lost opportunity” she experienced in sixth-grade as a result of this teacher’s performance, stating: “Now that I look back, I could have been learning something, and actually gone to honors in seventh grade like my friends ….”
Beatriz continued her testimony by describing how little control her seventh-grade history teacher had over his classroom. She testified that “he didn’t teach well, and he would let the students do whatever they want. Some students would be smoking marijuana in the back of the table, he didn’t even mind, and you could leave class if you want to… He would, like, just be on his laptop, he didn’t teach us.”
When asked how this classroom environment affected her as a student, Beatriz responded:
“Well, it affected me because I didn’t know my history till now… [H]e even made  rude comments… He would call us stupid and tell us that we’re going [to] clean houses for a living, and um,
that Latinos are going to end up being ‘cholos.’”
When asked how her teacher’s use of this derogatory term made her feel, Beatriz responded: “It made me feel bad about myself, since I’m a Latina, but it also made me work harder, because I’m going to show him that [not] all Latinas are going turn out as ‘cholos’, or clean houses for a living.”
Finally, Beatriz was asked to talk about her seventh-grade science teacher. When asked why she felt that her seventh-grade science teacher was ineffective, Beatriz responded:
“Well again, she didn’t teach well and she wouldn’t talk to students, and I was scared to ask even ask a question because I didn’t want her to insult me, so I fell behind and lost an opportunity to learn there too.”
Beatriz also shared stories about her seventh-grade science teacher’s conduct in the classroom:
“[S]he would always make fun of the students calling… [S]he would call this one girl ‘stick-figure wh*re’, um… um to go back to her corner and just, yeah… It made me feel sad because, why should a teacher say that to her, no one should be telling her that. A teacher is supposed to motivate you, encourage you, not put you down.”
When asked why she cares about the teachers she gets in the future, Beatriz grinned and said: “I want to be a nurse… I think a teacher is supposed to motivate you and encourage you and keep you going to school….”
Testimony by Elizabeth Vergara
Elizabeth Vergara, a high school junior from Pacoima, took the stand after her sister Beatriz. Like her sister, Elizabeth attends Cesar Chavez Learning Academy.
When asked why she joined the case, Elizabeth responded:
“[T]his [case] is giving me the opportunity to do something for a change. Education is really important to me, since I’m almost going to graduate. I would want to have better teachers, I want my younger sister and my younger brother to have better teachers too, I don’t want them to experience the experience I had.”
Elizabeth was also asked about her experience with an effective teacher. She opened up before the courtroom and spoke of her sixth-grade English teacher: “[H]e inspired me to read, I didn’t like to read…he’s the one that told me that reading is really important, you’re going to need it in your life, and it will build your imagination. He was a really good teacher…I started to read everyday.”
When asked if she had ever been assigned a teacher that she thought was extremely bad, Elizabeth identified her seventh-grade history teacher (who was also Beatriz’s teacher) and her eighth-grade English teacher.
During her testimony, Elizabeth added to her sister’s testimony about her seventh-grade history teacher: “I knew he would sleep in class. He wouldn’t teach you anything, and students sometimes would just have magazines, like using their phones, talking, throwing stuff, throwing food…”
During her testimony, Elizabeth also testified about her love for reading. However, when she was in eighth-grade English, Elizabeth testified: “He didn’t teach us anything like how to structure like an essay, how to analyze a story, you know, how-what an English teacher is supposed to do. All he did was, ‘You guys can do whatever you want.’ Sometimes he even put movies on, or some people would be using computers, and we only read like one chapter of the book the whole year.”
Elizabeth further testified about why she cares about the types of teachers to which she may be assigned in the future:
“Well because teachers are supposed to be encouraging you, supposed to be like saying, you could do this, you could be something in life, and not saying rude c omments, not putting you down and if you have a good teacher, then you’re going to have a good education, and that means you could go somewhere in life, you could go to college, you’re going to know subjects. Students will want to go to, will want to go to school…”
Testimony by Raylene Monterroza
Raylene Monterroza, a sixteen-year-old Plaintiff who attended traditional district schools in the Pasadena Unified School District and the Long Beach Unified School District, took the stand after Elizabeth Vergara completed her testimony.
Raylene began her testimony by sharing a story about her seventh-grade English teacher, who she said was “the best teacher I ever had.” According to Raylene, this teacher always came prepared, had unique learning plans for each student, and started the debate program at her school-the only debate program in the Pasadena Unified School District. In a moment of levity, Raylene, who participated in the debate program, testified that she loved being a part of the program, even though they placed last in competitions.
Raylene described her seventh-grade English teacher as very engaged and effective, raising her class’ test scores to the highest scores in the district. Unfortunately, this highly effective teacher was laid off as a result of a reduction in force.
While discussing a grossly ineffective teacher that she had in fifth grade, Raylene recounted that “she would not teach, and she would come unprepared with no learning plan, and she would talk about her personal life, and also belittle other teachers and say that they were bad teachers, and one time she threw an overhead projector at the students…a piece flew off and hit a student on the head and he started crying.”
Raylene emphasized the impact that this grossly ineffective teacher had on her: “It made me afraid, it made me not want to try or show up to school, and it was basically an opportunity to learn wasted, and it really put me behind my peers.”
Finally, Raylene stated why she became a Plaintiff in the case: “I care about education, and I want to maybe return to public school and be with my friends, and I don’t want any other kids to have bad teachers.”
In addition to Plaintiffs’ testimony, the Court heard testimony from Nick Melvoin, a former LAUSD teacher who was laid off multiple times under the “Last-in, First-out” (LIFO) Statute, and Dr. Dan Goldhaber, a Research Professor of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences at the University of Washington, Bothell.”
PUSD Chairman Scott Phelps told Beacon Media:
“Of course we would love to not have to lay off by seniority as it really ties our hands and prevents us from making changes.
“I hope that after all the appeals we will get a new system. Our local union, by the way, after working with the PUSD administration for a year on a new evaluation instrument for teachers, refused to approve a pilot of it by the agreed upon deadline and wants to stall for another year. The stalling is of course led by their CTA attorney who has wasted more time than anyone I know. We may tell PERB we are at impasse. By the way, I would support using student outcome data only for a max of 30% of a teacher’s evaluation because I am leery of what overemphasis on standardized testing does to curriculum and instruction.”