A California Appellate Court unanimously found that student plaintiffs failed to show that the California Education Code violates the equal protection clause.
In Vergara v. State of California, nine California public school students sued the state and several public officials claiming that parts of California’s Education Code are unconstitutional on their face. Specifically, the students claimed the sections covering how K-12 public school teachers obtain tenure, how teachers are dismissed, and how teachers are laid off on the basis of seniority violates the California Constitution’s guarantee that all citizens enjoy the “equal protection of the laws.” The trial court agreed with the students and found that five sections of the Education Code were unconstitutional and void.
The California Appellate Court disagreed and reversed the trial court’s decision. The Appellate Court found that the statutes did not violate equal protection because the students failed to show the statutes at issue cause a certain group of students to receive an education inferior to the education received by other students.
The right to equal protection is guaranteed by the California Constitution. The equal protection clause applies to laws that discriminate explicitly between groups of people, as well as laws that have a disproportionate impact on certain groups.
The California Appellate Court found that the statutes at issue do not instruct school administrators regarding which teachers to assign to which schools. Because the statutes do not determine where teachers are assigned throughout the districts, there is no constitutional violation on the face of the statute. It was not enough that experts testified that grossly ineffective teachers tend to accumulate in schools serving minority students and that the challenged statutes could be a cause.
The Court noted that its job was not to determine if the system is a good idea or effective, but rather the Court’s job was to determine the constitutionality of the statute. In fact, the Court noted that the statutes may even lead to the hiring and retention of ineffective teachers compared to an alternative system.
For more, view the full California Appellate Court decision.