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Vergara v. California - California Court of Appeal Hears Oral Argument in Education Equality Lawsuit

  • Published: 2016-02-25 : Author: Students Matter : Contact:
  • Synopsis: California Court of Appeal hears oral argument in groundbreaking education equality lawsuit, Vergara v. California.

Quote: "These laws deprive thousands of California children the quality education they deserve, and they impose disproportionate harm on low-income students and students of color, said Theodore J. Boutrous, Jr., lead counsel for the Plaintiffs."

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Today, the California Court of Appeal, Second Appellate District, Division 2 heard oral argument in the appeal of the historic education equality lawsuit, Vergara v. California. The lawsuit, filed in 2012 by nine student Plaintiffs from across California and sponsored by Students Matter, challenges the State's quality-blind teacher tenure, dismissal and layoff laws.

In June 2014, after a two-month trial, the Superior Court for the County of Los Angeles issued a landmark ruling finding the challenged laws unconstitutional. As the Superior Court held, the five laws at issue force school districts to place grossly underperforming teachers in classrooms year after year, imposing severe harm on California students, particularly low-income and minority students. In this appeal, the State and the State's two largest teachers unions have asked the Court of Appeal to overturn the Superior Court's ruling.

"These laws deprive thousands of California children the quality education they deserve, and they impose disproportionate harm on low-income students and students of color," said Theodore J. Boutrous, Jr., lead counsel for the Plaintiffs. "The trial court reviewed a mountain of evidence during a two-month trial and reached a sound decision to strike down these harmful laws. Today, we asked the Court of Appeal to affirm this landmark victory for children."

During oral argument, Mr. Boutrous stressed the legal precedent that supports Plaintiffs' case, particularly the California Supreme Court's decision in Serrano v. Priest, a case in which a group of student-Plaintiffs successfully challenged the State's method of financing its public education system. At argument, Mr. Boutrous also emphasized the voluminous evidentiary record supporting the Superior Court's decision, which included hundreds of exhibits and testimony from over 50 witnesses, including leading education experts, school district superintendents and administrators, principals and teachers.

Following oral argument, Plaintiffs and their legal team held a press conference, during which they highlighted the significance of the case. "What we wanted two years ago and what we want today are the same: We want every student to have access to effective teachers who inspire them and put them on the right track for success in school and life," said Brandon DeBose, Jr., one of the nine student Plaintiffs. "This case is about ensuring a bright future for millions of California public school students."

Since it was filed in 2012, the Vergara case has garnered support from notable public figures in the education and political spheres. In September 2015, renowned constitutional law scholar Laurence H. Tribe, former California Governors Arnold Schwarzenegger and Pete Wilson, and education chiefs from around the country submitted amicus curiae (or "friend of the court") briefs in support of Plaintiffs. President Obama's Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, former Bay Area Democratic Congressman George Miller and former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa have also publicly applauded the Superior Court's ruling.

The case has struck a chord with the general public as well. An April 2015 USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll of California voters revealed that more than half of California voters support eliminating or changing the state's teacher tenure laws, while a supermajority of voters (82 percent) believe that teacher performance - rather than seniority alone - should be taken into account when making layoff and dismissal decisions.

Moreover, Vergara has sparked a statewide conversation about a "kids first" public education system. In 2015, for example, Students Matter partnered with Congressman George Miller to conduct a series of community roundtables called Kids First Conversations, which convened parents, teachers, students, school administrators, elected officials, civil rights leaders and education advocates for a meaningful conversation about the future of public education in California. Kids First Conversations took place in six cities across the state, including Sacramento, Fresno, Bakersfield, Los Angeles, San Diego and Oakland.

Students Matter, the organizational sponsor of the Vergara lawsuit, continues to support the case on appeal. The nonprofit's founder, Dave Welch, spoke at the Plaintiffs' press conference and discussed the organization's vision for a public education system that puts the needs and interests of kids first. "Since the very beginning, this case has been about ensuring that our kids have access to the most important in-school factor impacting their education: quality teachers," said Mr. Welch. "Every child, regardless of where they live, deserves a passionate, inspiring teacher in their classroom, and an education system that's centered on their needs. That is why we are here today and why it is critical that the appellate court uphold the Superior Court's historic victory for California's students."

It is expected that the Court of Appeal will issue a decision within 90 days.

Follow along on Twitter using #VergaraAppeal.

Students Matter is a national nonprofit organization dedicated to sponsoring impact litigation to promote access to quality public education. Learn more at

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