SACRAMENTO (AP) — The state Senate has 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 Democratic Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan of Alamo adds homicide charges to the list of offenses that can prompt a teacher’s removal. But it removes possession of marijuana and some other drugs from the list of offenses that can trigger immediate removal from the classroom.
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 measure passed the Senate Thursday on a 25-13 vote and returns to the Assembly for final action. It also removes 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.
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