Senate Bill Seeks Modification of Dismissal and Suspension Process for Certificated Employees

In the wake of the sexual abuse scandal that rocked Los Angeles Unified School District in February of 2012, legislators introduced several bills to streamline the dismissal and suspension procedures for certificated public school employees, particularly for incidents involving sexual misconduct. The allegations of sexual assaults against elementary students at Miramonte Elementary School in South Los Angeles sparked public outcry over the certificated employee dismissal process when one of the alleged molesters, a third grade teacher, settled the teacher dismissal proceeding against him for $40,000. The settlement highlighted the difficulties school districts face in conducting dismissal proceedings, even in cases involving egregious allegations.

Senate Bill 1530, introduced by State Senator Alex Padilla (D - San Fernando Valley) seeks to streamline the process for suspending or dismissing certificated employees for serious offenses. Below we describe current law, and how SB 1530 would change it.

Existing Law

A permanent certificated employee can only be dismissed or suspended for the causes specifically set out in Education Code sections 44932, 44933, and 44939, and section 44934 establishes the process for initiating dismissal proceedings.  It requires the district to serve the certificated employee with a written statement of charges specifically outlining the basis for the district’s recommendation, and provides the certificated employee with 30 days to demand a hearing.

If the ground for dismissal is based on unprofessional conduct, even before a written statement of charges can be served on the employee, the district must give the employee written notice specifying the nature of the unprofessional conduct and give the employee 45 days to correct the conduct. Districts are also generally prohibited from filing dismissal charges between May 15 and September 15.

Immediate suspension without pay of certificated employees is only available through Education Code section 44939, and is limited to instances of (1) immoral conduct; (2) convictions of crimes involving moral turpitude; (3) willful refusal to perform regular assignments without reasonable cause; or (4) knowing membership in the Communist Party.

Currently, when an employee exercises his or her right to an evidentiary hearing, a hearing before a three member panel called a Commission on Professional Competence (CPC) must commence within 60 days of the employee’s request for a hearing. In practice, due to a variety of factors, the hearing rarely if ever starts within the 60 day time period.  Evidence or testimony cannot be used if it relates to matter that occurred more than four years before the district filed its notice of charges against the employee. If the panel decides the employee should not be terminated or suspended, then the employee is entitled to his or her fees and costs, including attorneys’ fees.

Because the existing process to dismiss teachers is so costly, unpredictable and time consuming, school districts often resort to paying teachers to resign, even in cases where termination seems completely warranted. Settlement is the only way to control costs and guarantee the teacher's permanent removal from the district.

Senate Bill 1530

SB 1530 attempts to modify this dismissal process by expanding the grounds for immediate suspension without pay to include “serious or egregious unprofessional conduct.” For cases involving specified sex offenses, child abuse offenses, or controlled substance offenses, the procedures would be amended by (1) removing the ban on filing dismissal charges between May 15 and September 15; (2) limiting the hearing panel to an Administrative Law Judge, who will make a recommendation to the district governing board which can be accepted or rejected after the employee has an opportunity to be heard; and (3) removing the ban on the use of evidence or testimony that occurred more than four years before date the notice of charges is filed.

The proposed changes to certificated employee unpaid suspension proceedings are the first amendments to that Education Code for certificated employees since 1977. Supporters of the bill see the changes as striking the proper balance between schools’ needs to protect the educational rights of students in a safe environment with the needs of teachers to have due process available when threatened with dismissal.

On May 14, 2012 SB 1530 was placed in the "suspense file" in the Senate Appropriations Committee, which is used to hold bills with a fiscal cost over a threshold amount in light of their potential impact on the state budget. Earlier today, by a vote of 5-2, the bill was removed from suspense and passed out of the committee.

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