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SCVNews.com | Opinion/Commentary: Teacher Firing Reform Needed | 04-24-2013
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Commentary by Assemblyman Scott Wilk
| Wednesday, Apr 24, 2013

scottwilk_mug2013As a father of two, one of my top priorities as your Assemblyman is public safety – no one, particularly a child, should live in fear in their school or neighborhood.

One of many issues that Sacramento has lacked courage is passing legislation making it easier to fire teachers who are woefully unfit to be in a classroom. Current state law requires an arduous, expensive and time consuming process to dismiss a teacher for unprofessional conduct or unsatisfactory performance. With teacher misconduct scandals being reported more frequently, it is clear the status quo is failing to protect our students from these classroom predators.

Like many parents in 2011, I was stunned reading the arrest account of Mark Berndt, a Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) 30-year veteran teacher, who was charged with 23 counts of lewd conduct toward students between the ages of 7 and 10. Shockingly, police investigations into Berndt’s behavior started two years before any action was taken. A few days after Berndt’s arrest another teacher, Martin Bernard Springer, was arrested and charged with lewd acts against two former students. Earlier this year yet another teacher, Robert Pimentel, was arrested on allegations he molested 20 students in his classroom. In all of these cases investigation started months, if not years, before the teachers were removed from their classroom.

Adding insult to injury is the fact that state law makes it very challenging to fire or dismiss a teacher that poses a threat to our school children. Imprudent union contracts and overly-complicated proceedings for school officials only add to the already cumbersome process of investigation or dismissal and oftentimes swift action gets hung-up in the crosshairs of administrative procedures and review.

So why is the process outrageously long and difficult? Existing law requires a school district governing board not take action on charges of unprofessional conduct or unsatisfactory performance until 45 or 90 days after the charge has been made.  Waiting up to three months to investigate a charge that a teacher has acted inappropriately in a classroom is absurd and should be reversed.

We also need to eliminate employee’s ability to remove complaints, reprimands or disciplinary action taken against an employee from that employee’s record after a given period of time. In other words, teachers who know they have received poor reviews are allowed to bargain collectively for the removal of records documenting past incidences.

Only making the process more complicated is a law that bars testimony or evidence introduced at a dismissal or suspension hearing that relates to matters that occurred more than four years prior to the date of the current suspension or termination filing. If a teacher is on their best behavior for a mere four years, their record is essentially wiped clean. When it comes to protecting our youth, records should not just vanish into thin air because of good behavior or even worse, a contract negotiation.

This is why I’ve introduced Assembly Bill 1221, aimed at protecting society’s most vulnerable by streamlining and reducing the time it takes to investigate, suspend or dismiss a teacher who has proven themselves unable to act appropriately in the classroom. AB 1221 would remove the 45 to 90 day waiting period that must occur before action is taken on the charge of unprofessional conduct. It changes the make-up of the Commission on Professional Competence from four to only one non-biased administrative law judge. Furthermore, it eliminates a current law that prohibits school districts from giving dismissal notices out between May 15th and September 15th of any given year. AB 1221 also eliminates the ability through union contracts to remove after a certain period of time from an employee’s record any complaints, reprimands or disciplinary action taken against an employee. In a time when a criminal record, judicial decision or credit score follows a person wherever they go, so should a teacher’s personal conduct record.

Last year three legislators walked out of an Assembly Education Committee hearing so enough “aye” votes were cast to pass reform.  That action cost one of the legislators her job.  It is my hope that regardless of party, legislators can come together and vote to better protect our school children.

 

Assemblyman Scott Wilk, R- Santa Clarita, represents the 38th Assembly District, which encompasses Simi Valley, the northern section of the San Fernando Valley and most of the Santa Clarita Valley.

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1 Comment

  1. FiestyGirl says:

    This is a Democrat bill that Wilk had nothing to do with. He could care less about education apart from getting the headline. COC was his stepping stone to the assembly and now the assembly is his launching pad to congress. Imagine how much we would be able to get done if Wilk spent more time trying to fix a broken government, not serving his ambition.

    The fact of the matter is Wilk says nothing about protecting the rights of the unborn, standing up for the second amendment, defending traditional marriage and keeping out the illegals? You are silent Scott on all the big issues. Are you still registered a Republican?

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