Our View: Keep California classrooms safe
Garden Grove Unified School District initiated termination proceedings against Marc Cross after raiding the middle-school teacher's classroom computer and finding some 40 sexually graphic images.
Cross maintained that there was insufficient evidence to fire him. Rather than litigate the termination, Garden Grove Unified allowed the teacher to resign and paid him $37,084, despite evidence of his moral turpitude.
Cross was one of at least 36 Orange County educators who left their campuses the past five years amid allegations of misconduct, according to a two-part investigative report by Orange County Register writers Scott Martindale and Fermin Leal.
Of the three-dozen educators, one in three was allowed to settle, including a San Juan Capistrano physical education teacher who received $68,595 from his district.
OC school districts are inclined to settle with teachers challenging their prospective dismissal, even in cases in which criminal charges have been filed, because of the capriciousness of teacher termination proceedings.
Indeed, once a school district initiates termination proceedings, the accused teacher has the right to challenge the district's decision before a three-member panel consisting of one appointee of the district, another chosen by the accused teacher, and the third an administrative law judge.
The panel's conclusion as to whether a teacher should be fired actually trumps the decision of the school district, the teacher's employer. That makes it all the more difficult for school districts to protect schoolchildren from unfit teachers.
The Legislature this past session considered Senate Bill 1530, which would have given school boards, rather than three-member panels, final say in teacher termination proceedings. It was introduced in the wake of sex allegations involving teachers.
Most notoriously, Mark Berndt, a teacher in the Los Angeles Unified School District, was arrested in January on suspicion of lewd conduct — allegedly as depicted in hundreds of photos of his third-grade students.
The state Senate approved the measure, which would have allowed school districts to swiftly remove teachers from the classroom when they are suspected of criminal acts against children for which they rightly should be terminated.
However, the legislation was rejected by the Assembly Education Committee, after intense lobbying by the powerful California Teachers Association, which asserted that the measure "guts teacher due process rights."
CTA's position suggested that OC teachers like Jayne DeArmond, who brought a .38 caliber pistol to her third-grade classroom, and Daniel and Gay Davidson, a married couple who brought an underage student to their home where they "groomed" him for sex, would be denied their constitutional right to trial by judge and jury.
But neither DeArmond, the Davidsons nor any other teacher facing termination would have been denied the right to legally challenge accusations leveled against them.
They would have been entitled to a disciplinary hearing before their school board. And, if the board returned an adverse decision, the teachers could have challenged their termination in court.
The overwhelming majority of Orange County public school teachers are upstanding, and are no less concerned than the lay public when one of their own is guilty of misconduct, bringing disrepute upon their profession.
Those upstanding teachers needn't have feared SB1530, which was meant only to remove the bad apples from the classroom. The measure has been reintroduced for 2013, and we urge the Legislature to approve it.