The teachers’ union kills a Democratic bill to remove criminals from California’s classrooms.
Early this year, Los Angeles police arrested Mark Berndt, a longtime teacher at Miramonte Elementary School, on 23 counts of committing lewd acts on children between the ages of seven and ten. The sickening details of the crimes Berndt is charged with committing horrified the community and the state. More stories about California teachers accused of sexual misconduct with children have now surfaced. The Berndt case casts new light on the tortuous legal process that makes it nearly impossible for schools to rid themselves of even these depraved teachers. Perversely, the case also shows the extent to which teachers’ unions will go to protect their prerogatives.
As a result of Berndt’s indictment, the Los Angeles Unified School District asked the state legislature to change existing law to speed up the process of removing such teachers. State senator Alex Padilla, a Los Angeles Democrat and former L.A. city councilman, wrote Senate Bill 1530, which would streamline the labyrinthine “dismissal statutes” that require districts to navigate a seemingly endless maze of hearings and appeals. Padilla’s bill was actually quite narrow in scope, dealing only with credible claims that a teacher has abused a child with sex, drugs, or violence. Existing law lets local school boards immediately suspend a teacher under “specified conditions, including immoral conduct.” Padilla’s bill simply would add language allowing a school board to suspend an employee for “serious or egregious unprofessional conduct.” Garnering strong bipartisan support, Padilla’s bill sailed through the state senate in late May on a vote of 33 to 4.