SACRAMENTO (AP) — The Legislature on Thursday passed a bill intended to speed and streamline the process for dismissing teachers accused of misconduct, despite the opinion of some that the measure should be improved, possibly next year.
AB375 by Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan, D-Alamo, adds homicide charges to the list of offenses that can prompt a teacher’s immediate removal. But it removes possession of marijuana and some other drugs from the list.
The legislation responds to last year’s arrest of a Los Angeles elementary school teacher who was charged with 23 counts of engaging in lewd conduct with students. The Los Angeles Unified School District fired Miramonte teacher Mark Berndt, but he appealed, and the district opted to pay him $40,000 to drop his challenge. Berndt has pleaded not guilty.
“AB375 would not have helped the Miramonte case,” said Sen. Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar. “In fact, it makes it worse. We can streamline this process without throwing sexually abused victims under the bus.”
Critics say the bill limits the number of years schools can go back to gather evidence against teachers, which means that in some cases previous incidents cannot be considered in firing decisions.
“This is not a great bill,” said Sen. Marty Block, D-San Diego. “But it is better than the status quo. I agree it’s terribly flawed and next year we need to create a better bill. It protects more children than what we have now.”
The bill passed the Senate Thursday on a 25-13 vote, then was approved on a final 47-22 vote in the Assembly. It now goes to the governor.
It also removed old language about “knowing membership of the Communist Party” as a reason for suspending or dismissing a teacher.
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson said in testimony prepared for a Senate committee that the measure removes an arbitrary deadline on considering abuse in dismissal proceedings while protecting the rights of teachers.
The state’s largest teachers union supported the bill. In a statement, California Teachers Association President Dean Vogel said the legislation strikes a balance between maintaining student safety and protecting the rights of teachers.
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