Groundbreaking Education Equality Trial, Vergara v. California, Concludes
Plaintiffs’ Closing Argument Reaffirms That the Challenged Statutes Deprive Students Across California of Their Fundamental Right to Education
In a full courtroom at the Stanley Mosk Courthouse in Los Angeles, the parties in Vergara v. California presented their closing arguments in a historic case that will decide the fate of five provisions of the California Education Code. Over the course of the two-month trial, parents, teachers, principals, superintendents, and education experts provided emotional testimony about the pernicious harms that these five statutes impose on students, families, and communities across the State.
Nine California school children, with the help of a national education non-profit called Students Matter, filed the lawsuit nearly two years ago against the State of California, Governor Edmund G. Brown, Jr., the California Department of Education, the State Board of Education, and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson. Led by Theodore J. Boutrous, Jr. and Marcellus A. McRae, attorneys from the law firm of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP represented Plaintiffs in bringing their constitutional challenge. In May 2013, the California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers intervened in the action to defend the laws at issue in this case.
Plaintiffs’ case challenges five state laws that force school district administrators to push passionate, inspiring teachers out of the school system and keep grossly ineffective teachers in front of students year after year. Specifically, the laws in question (1) force school districts to make teacher tenure decisions before they can determine with any measure of accuracy whether teachers are or will be effective at advancing student learning; (2) make the process to dismiss failing teachers so burdensome, time consuming, and costly that it is virtually impossible to dismiss ineffective teachers; and (3) require districts to engage in quality-blind layoffs based when layoffs are unavoidable.
Messrs. Boutrous and McRae delivered Plaintiffs’ closing argument, which recapped the compelling evidence that Plaintiffs presented over the course of the trial. Watch Mr. McRae’s closing argument, watch Mr. Boutrous’ closing argument and closing argument rebuttal, and follow along with the entire closing argument presentation.
“Over the past eight weeks, Plaintiffs have presented overwhelming evidence that proves that the Challenged Statutes impose a real and appreciable impact on students’ fundamental constitutional rights,” said Mr. Boutrous. “The evidence is beyond dispute—these laws harm students each and every day.”
During the Court’s midday recess, Plaintiffs and several of the witnesses who testified during the case held a press conference, during which they described what this trial has meant to them.
“Being a part of this case has given me an opportunity to stand up for my education,” said Plaintiff and high school junior Elizabeth Vergara. “It has been an amazing journey, and one that has already changed me forever … My voice matters and I want other students to know that their voice matters too.”
“I hope that after we win this case, every student in California will have the chance to learn from inspiring and life-changing teachers,” said Plaintiff and high school senior Kate Elliott. “I’m proud to be a part of this case and to stand up for students across California.”
Students Matter founder David F. Welch also spoke at the press conference and discussed his organization’s vision for a student-centric education system. “It is my hope that this trial will lead to a paradigm shift in our education system. It is imperative that we start looking at education through the lens of children and asking ourselves: ‘Is this really what’s best for students?’” said Mr. Welch. “The purpose of the education system is to create a better future for all children. That’s why we are here today and that’s what Students Matter stands for.”
Students Matter Advisory Board members Russlynn Ali and Maria Casillas also spoke.
“I have spent my entire career fighting inequality in education and finding solutions that will guarantee a quality public education for all students,” said Ms. Ali, who previously served as Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education under President Obama. “That’s why we’re all here today—because five California laws deny students access to the most driven and passionate teachers we have to offer them.”
“Nine students brought this suit to fight for their education and change a broken system that doesn’t work for them or any of the other six million children educated in California public schools. Their courage is truly inspiring,” said Ms. Casillas, the former Chief of LAUSD’s Parent and Community Services and a former teacher. “That’s why I stand with these students today—because they are proof that we do not have to live with the status quo, that it can be challenged, that together we can all have a voice to rise up and make change.”
Also speaking at the press conference was Bhavini Bhakta, a Common Core coach in the Arcadia Unified School District who testified on Plaintiffs’ behalf at trial. Ms. Bhakta received the Golden Apple Teacher of the Year in 2009, but nevertheless received several layoff notices under the “Last-in, First-out” (“LIFO”) Statute. “There is no doubt in my mind that these laws harm both students and teachers,” said Ms. Bhakta. “We deserve a better education system, one that demonstrates the immense value and importance of teachers and puts students where they should be—at the center of education.”
The press conference concluded with remarks from Plaintiffs’ lead co-counsel, Marcellus McRae.
“With this case, we have affirmed that education is not a privilege limited to the few. It is a right that must be available to everyone,” said Mr. McRae. “And we have fought the misconception that we have to choose between supporting our students and supporting our teachers. We don’t. We can give our students an effective education and give teachers the respect and support they deserve.”