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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.

And O'Donnell said permanent status does not mean a teacher cannot be fired, it simply means more protections are offered against capricious dismissals.

When "they gain permanent status it's not as easy to move them out, so to speak," she said. "But it's not a lifetime sentence, like tenure."

Heidi Kreklau, president of the approximately 85-member Bellevue teachers union, said the current rules were put in place to allow teachers to give instruction without fear of political or personal retribution.

"It's the due process that I think is the most important part," she said, saying that in her career as both a teacher and union leader, she's worked for a number of principals and administrators.

"Some have liked me and some haven't," she said.

It's not about keeping bad teachers on the job, she said.

"With anything egregious, there are very clear and easy ways to get rid of someone," she said. "It's not that difficult."

Tuesday's ruling, even if it is appealed, is a bellwether, according to McDonald.

"I do think change is afoot," he said. "I think California is behind the curve in adopting and reforming teacher tenure laws. I think other states have been more progressive in this area based on responding to public opinion, public outcry if you will.

"I think our state is poised to take some of the best ideas that are being tried out in other areas."