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California bill makes egregious misconduct fireable offense for teachers

By Sharon Bernstein

SACRAMENTO Calif. (Reuters) - Days after a Los Angeles judge ruled unconstitutional five California laws granting tenure and other job protections for public school teachers, lawmakers passed a measure adding "egregious misconduct" to the list of fireable offenses.

Unanimous passage of the bill by both houses of the legislature this week takes place against a backdrop of Tuesday's court ruling that it was too hard to fire teachers in the most populous U.S. state, resulting in a denial of equal rights to children in poor neighborhoods, where a lawsuit argued that grossly incompetent teachers are often transferred.

“We all agree that the current dismissal appeal process takes too long and costs too much money," said Democratic assembly member Joan Buchanan, the bill's author. "The public demands a process that is fair and efficient and responds to the needs of school districts to efficiently manage their workforce."

Buchanan's bill, which passed Thursday and now heads to the desk of Democratic Governor Jerry Brown, stops short, however, of addressing the issue of incompetent teachers.

Inspired by the case of a Los Angeles Unified School District teacher sent to prison after pleading no contest to charges including feeding students cookies laced with his own semen, the bill instead adds "egregious misconduct" to the existing list of fireable offenses for tenured teachers in the state, which already includes immoral or unprofessional behavior.

Brown's administration remained silent on Friday on the question of whether it would appeal the ruling by Judge Rolf M. Treu, which overturned laws granting such protections as tenure after two years on the job and the requirement that junior teachers be laid off first during cutbacks.

The ruling, a major setback for teacher unions that could also have national implications, came in response to a lawsuit complaining the protections hurt poor and minority students by effectively funneling incompetent teachers to schools in disadvantaged areas at disproportional rates.

(Reporting by Sharon Bernstein; Editing by Jim Loney)