The Catholic University of America




Final Student Scholar Presentation of Year
Examines the Right to a Quality Education


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A 2014 ruling from a California court breathes new meaning into the old expression: The devil is in the details, according to a second-year CUA Law student. 

Delivering the third and final Student Scholar Series presentation of the academic year on March 25, Melissa Mulrey Soares explained the issues raised by Vergara v. California, a decision that arose from a lawsuit filed on behalf of California public school students in 2012.  
The group eventually convinced a state trial court that California’s constitution guarantees a right to “quality” education, and that a group of challenged statutes violated that right.  All the statutes in question involved teacher job protections. The lawsuit argued that the difficulty in firing “grossly inadequate” teachers was a violation of the equal protection clause, and disproportionately affected minority students.
The resulting decision two years later was a victory for the students, as it curtailed some of the rights and privileges established by teachers’ unions in the state.
Soares said what while nobody would oppose the goal of a quality education for all, the ruling “does not balance the competing issue of children’s right to quality education with teachers’ competing due process rights.”

“This is a hydra of a decision,” Soares told the audience of fellow students, staff, and faculty members. “You eliminate one head of a problem, and another head comes up.”
The basic problem, she argued, is that there is no standard definition of what a quality education is. Who will decide? she asked. The courts?
Vergara v. California is possibly sustainable under California’s constitution, but it is not sustainable under the U.S. Constitution,” Soares said.
Serving as respondent, faculty Professor Roger Hartley agreed that the judge’s decision left significant legal questions unanswered, in addition to misconstruing the underlying legal principle. “This is a substantive due process case, not an equal protection case,” Hartley observed.
Soares presentation, “The Shift from the Constitutional Right to Equality in Education to Quality Education in California through Vergara v. California,” will form the basis of a full article that she hopes to publish in an established law review.  
Conceived and founded by CUA Law Professor A.G. Harmon in 2009, Catholic University’s Student Scholar Series was instituted in to recognize notable legal scholarship produced by members of the student body during the academic year and to foster the skills associated with presenting and defending that scholarship in a professional conference-style setting.
Soares presentation was the 21st since its founding.