Sonoma County educators worry about decision on teacher tenure (w/video)

The suit alleged that existing rules allow ineffective teachers to remain the classroom, more often to the detriment of poorer students. Current rules give teachers permanent status after their second year.

It also challenged the so-called last hired, first fired rule that puts teachers with the least amount of time on the job at greater risk of being laid off during budget cuts.

"Two years is a long time to have the opportunity to really see and evaluate a person and make a determination to see if you want them to move forward," said Helen O'Donnell, a local California Teachers Association representative.

Teachers, more than other professions, can fall victim to the whims of an administrator, student or parent, educators said.

"It's the concern that people can be let go for reasons other than being ineffective," O'Donnell said. "The system has worked for a long time."

The ruling could have wide-ranging implications across not only the state's school system, but other public sectors, said Keller McDonald, superintendent of the West Sonoma County High School District.

"This is only focused on teachers, but every other public employment sector will also be examining this to see if there are future implications in their sector," he said.

Teachers should have unique protections among other school employees because of their different level of responsibility, according to McDonald, but he acknowledged the long path to dismissal that can occur.

"If I were to plot a course to decide that we were going to take action to terminate a teacher for something other than direct cause — for breaking the law — I think it would take us over $100,000 and probably two years," he said.

But others argued that current law allows for schools and districts to let teachers go, but only after a series of professional interventions.

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