Michael Robinson Chavez / Los Angeles Times (lvyigppd20120811092741/600 )
Setting the stage for future legal battles, a state appeals court Friday nullified a settlement that allowed the Los Angeles Unified School District to shield certain schools from teacher layoffs during budget crises.
The decision by the California 2nd District Court of Appeal voided a settlement in Reed vs. L.A. Unified that allowed the district to bypass seniority-based layoffs at 45 schools. Those campuses, the district argued, would be heavily affected because many of their faculty members have taught for relatively fewer years and thus accrued little seniority.
Citing state law, school districts typically dismiss teachers who have less seniority during budgetary shortfalls.
The lawsuit, filed in 2010 on behalf of students at three of the city's worst-performing middle schools, Samuel Gompers, Edwin Markham and John H. Liechty, claimed that those students were denied their legal right to an education and aimed to prevent L.A. Unified from laying off more teachers there.
United Teachers Los Angeles appealed. The union contended that the court had not decided on the merits of the claim and that the settlement could potentially negate the seniority rights of its members. The union also argued that it had not had sufficient opportunity to argue its case before the settlement was approved.
The appeals court agreed, ruling that the union deserves a trial and that it was illegal to impose the settlement on teachers.
The union said in a statement that it was pleased with the court's decision: "The voice of teachers, through their union, was silenced in the writing of the settlement. As a result, what could have been an important discussion on how to help our schools of greatest need was preempted."
Attorneys from the American Civil Liberties Union, Public Counsel and Morrison & Foerster, who represent the students, said they would appeal to the California Supreme Court. Until the high court decides on the request, the settlement will remain in place.
"The facts are clear that when students at struggling schools lose their teachers to layoffs, they also lose their chance at a quality education," the attorneys said in a statement.
L.A. Unified Supt. John Deasy said the decision simply means that the district will continue to fight in a different court to protect the settlement.
"In the meantime, nothing has changed," Deasy said. "We are opening school for next year with our students and staff protected."
Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said in a statement that the settlement had largely stabilized staffing and improved performance at the schools.
Times staff writer Howard Blume contributed to this report.