Monday, October 07, 2013

THE FILES PROJECT MEETS UNDUE PROCESS: Post Miramonte whitewash, house cleaning, witch hunt …or business as (un)usual?

  • LAUSD unearths suspected misconduct in search of old personnel files
  • LAUSD firings mount since Miramonte scandal
  • Guilty even when proven innocent

The Los Angeles Unified School District has paid out $27 million in claims over alleged molestation at Miramonte Elementary School.

LAUSD unearths suspected misconduct in search of old personnel files

By Barbara Jones, Los Angeles Daily News |

10/5/13, 8:12 PM PDT | Updated: 10/6  ::  A review of 40 years’ worth of Los Angeles Unified personnel files that cost $400,000 over the past 20 months led to the resignations of two teachers and the recommendation that two more be fired for misconduct, according to district officials.

Two additional teachers remain under investigation for inappropriate behavior with students, officials said, and two others were cleared of wrongdoing and returned to the classroom.

Those eight cases are the result of what officials call simply “the file project” — a search through four decades of school-site records for letters, complaints or other reports of inappropriate behavior that may have been ignored or mishandled. Officials said they flagged 8,972 files for further review, but ultimately found just eight that warranted a full-fledged investigation.

Superintendent John Deasy ordered the file search in February 2012, after the Miramonte sex-abuse scandal sparked concerns about the prior handling of misconduct allegations.

“I didn’t know what we would find, but I didn’t want any more surprises when it came to misconduct,” Deasy said in an interview last week. “I’ve now taken all the steps that I know of to make sure there’s no misconduct that should have been acted on that wasn’t.”

District General Counsel David Holmquist declined to provide any details of the allegations contained in the eight files.

“I don’t think we’re prepared to say whether they were sexual or physical,” Holmquist said. “The common denominator is that we felt that — consistent with our practice and policy — it put students at risk and so they (the teachers) were pulled (from the classroom).”

Officials said some of the files had only one document while others were much more extensive. In one instance, the alleged abuse occurred “many years ago.” In some cases, the records showed the teacher had been verbally reprimanded for past misconduct, then allowed to return to the classroom.

Since Miramonte, however, teachers accused of misconduct are pulled from their classroom and “housed” in administrative offices during investigations that typically take months. Those found to have endangered the well-being of students are put on the track for dismissal.

Officials said one teacher identified in the file project resigned as soon as the investigation was opened, and the seven others were housed while their cases were reviewed. Only the two cleared of the allegations returned to class.

When Deasy launched the file project, he ordered the principals at more than 900 campuses to comb the file of every teacher or classified employee who’d ever worked at the school. He later narrowed the focus to 40 years because some schools are more than a century old and the task proved overwhelming.

The nearly 9,000 files with records of inappropriate activity were digitized, then reviewed by 20 retired administrators who were temporarily brought back to pore through the records.

Human Resources Executive Director Vivian Ekchian said the retirees worked in two-person teams and had to agree whether or not a case warranted further scrutiny. If the partners disagreed, a third administrator was brought in to make the final decision.

Focusing only on employees who still worked for the district, the review teams came up with eight cases that warranted full-fledged investigations. For that, the district created teams made up of school-site administrators, experts from the district’s Inspector General’s Office and retired investigators brought back from LAUSD’s own police department.

They were tasked with tracking down former principals, co-workers and students — some found to be living in Riverside or San Bernardino counties — so they could be asked about alleged incidents that took place years earlier.

“It was very difficult,” Ekchian said. “These are student witnesses or adults who are no longer working for us. The investigators had to check multiple addresses and look at yearbooks and ask for individuals who might recognize or know about them.”

Since February 2012, officials said, the retired administrators and investigative teams spent roughly 5,600 man-hours on the file project.

The district had budgeted $400,000 for the effort and spent nearly that — $122,600 for the administrative review and $272,000 for the investigation.

That cost doesn’t factor in the hundreds of hours that Ekchian’s Human Resources team spent on the file project or the efforts of principals who had to rummage through school basements and storage sheds for files dating back to the year Richard Nixon was elected president.

“When I think about the immense effort, I question whether it was worth going back that many years,” said Judith Perez, president of Associated Administrators of Los Angeles, the union representing the district’s principals.

”Our top priority is the safety of children. We agree with that, no question. But the huge amount of time and energy I think was over the top.”

But district officials say it was worth the cost and effort to ensure the safety of the district’s students.

They do not want a recurrence of Miramonte, the Los Angeles school where former teacher Mark Berndt of Torrance is accused of molesting 23 students. He has pleaded not guilty to criminal charges and is awaiting a preliminary hearing.

The district, meanwhile, has agreed to pay about $30 million to settle claims filed by 63 alleged victims of Berndt. An additional 65 claims have yet to be resolved.

“If the district has in its power the ability to go through files and make sure that child abusers aren’t in our current employment, we need to do that,” said school board member Tamar Galatzan, who has pushed efforts to hire professional investigators to handle misconduct cases.

The Miramonte scandal prompted a number of reforms, including one that requires parents to be notified within 72 hours if an employee at their child’s school is housed for misconduct.

Officials also plan to hire a team of professional investigators by December to look into allegations of teacher misconduct. They’re also working to create a centralized database of personnel records — including the 9,000 in the file project — so they can better track employee discipline.

“This was worthwhile,” Holmquist said. “We can say we’ve gone back and reviewed all the files in the district and found just a very small number that warranted some teachers for a further look. Hopefully, that gives some people a feeling of some comfort.”

LAUSD firings mount since Miramonte scandal

By Barbara Jones, Los Angeles Daily News |

10/5/13, 7:51 PM PDT | Updated: 10/6  ::  The Los Angeles Unified school board has voted to fire 127 educators and accepted the resignations of 110 more since February 2012, when the Miramonte sex-abuse scandal triggered a crackdown on misconduct, according to district officials.

In providing updated tallies last week, officials were unable to say how many of the 237 employees had quit or been terminated because of inappropriate behavior involving students.

However, they did say that “most” of the 413 educators pulled from the classroom over the past 20 months had been accused of some sort of misconduct. That total includes two teachers who are under investigation as a result of a review of 40 years’ worth of personnel files that was also launched after the Miramonte scandal.

A total of 68 teachers — including two others targeted in LAUSD’s file review project — were cleared of wrongdoing and reinstated, officials said.

According to the most recent figures, 209 educators are being “housed” in administrative offices — known in some circles as “teacher jail.” They can languish there for months, collecting their pay, while the district investigates the allegations and decides whether to return them to the classroom or recommend dismissal. (District officials provided the individual figures but acknowledged that they don’t add up precisely to the total of 413 because of the fluid situation.)

Under California law, a school board’s vote to dismiss a teacher takes effect 30 days later unless the educator appeals to the state Office of Administrative Hearings, a process that can months and cost upwards of $200,000 in legal fees to conclude.

Because the board’s dismissal vote also terminates the teacher’s salary, many educators opt to accept an offer of back pay to drop their appeal. That’s what happened with Miramonte teacher Mark Berndt, who received $40,000 after the board voted to terminate him.

Because of the public outcry over that deal, the district is no longer settling cases involving suspected sexual abuse, officials said. However, teachers accused of other types of misconduct can still negotiate a financial payout.

Over the past 20 months, the OAH has issued rulings involving 15 teachers, finding in favor of the district in eight of those cases. The district is appealing two of the cases it lost — both involving teachers accused of helping students cheat on tests.

And the five teachers who won their appeals have been placed back on the LAUSD payroll, but will not be returned to their former assignments, General Counsel David Holmquist said.

“We felt it appropriate to pull them from the classroom and remove them from being around students before. Just because the three-member (OAH) panel doesn’t agree with that doesn’t change our responsibility to the students.

“So we are continuing to house them or find other work for them that does not involve students. But they’re not going to be back in the classroom.”


2cents small

the following has nothing to do with child abuse or Dr. Deasy’s File Project …but has everything to do with LAUSD’s internal  affairs investigation and adjudication process:


from the AALA Weekly Update for the week of Oct 7 |

Oct 3  ::  On Wednesday, August 21, 2013, a well-respected assistant principal with a 28-year impeccable record was directed to remain home while an investigation was initiated by the ESC staff. The investigation was based upon a teacher’s complaint that the AP had grabbed her by the arm in the school’s main office. The involved teacher had been given several written directives to move to a different classroom beginning this past August. She had failed to follow the prior directives by the principal and assistant principal. ESC leadership assigned the AP to her home.

Some seven weeks later on Monday, September 30, 2013, the AP was told to attend a conference with the instructional director, a representative from performance accountability and her AALA representative. During the meeting, both the instructional director and the performance accountability person commented on the AP’s strong leadership qualities and the evidence and statements attesting to the AP’s innocence of the allegation. No evidence was presented to support the teacher’s charge. At the close of the conference, the instructional director provided the AP with a collection of “you shall do no wrong” District publications as if the AALA member was guilty of wrong-doing. This action brought tears to the eyes of the AP and demonstrated the current insensitivity to the very people who are holding the District’s schools together for students, staff and parents.

The story continues: the AALA member remains at home while the investigation packet moves forward to the Housed Employee Reassignment Committee (HERC) for review on Monday, October 7, 2013. Thereafter, the case will be forwarded to Superintendent Deasy for his review before a final determination is rendered. Thus, it appears that the administrator will return to her school more than two months after the alleged incident. As a case study, AALA raises the following questions, which, had they been properly addressed, would have resolved this in a more timely and satisfactory fashion.

  • Why didn’t the ESC superintendent or operations administrator immediately contact the police division where the alleged complaint had been filed to seek a quick resolution?
  • Does the ESC administrator of operations track individual cases on a daily basis to insure personnel matters are addressed in a timely manner?
  • When did the investigation really begin? When did it end? Who was charged with the responsibility for conducting the investigation?
  • Who at the ESC determines the person responsible for handling each case? In this particular situation, AALA has learned that the administrator of operations and the instructional director were uncertain as to the ESC person responsible for completing the case.
  • Did the ESC leadership ever think to consider the loss of a highly skilled administrator at an active middle school during the first two months of school?
  • Will anybody in District leadership provide the AP with a letter of apology for the mishandling of the case and a commendation for her ongoing professional contributions to students, staff and parents?

Guilty even when proven innocent!


Also see: 4LAKIds Sept 22, 2013 |

FRIDAY EVENING I WAS ON A RADIO CHAT SHOW (Politics or Pedagogy, KPFK 90.7) and attorney Catherine Lombardo made a presentation on the District’s policy+practice of removing teachers who are accused of inappropriate conduct from classrooms and their careers. I’m all for protecting children and getting rid of pedophiles – but what she said was chilling …and rang a little too true!

Take a listen here: …and compare and contrast to Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. Or the McMartin Preschool debacle. Or Star Chamber proceedings.

Consider also that the ®eformist rhetoric of Bad Teachers = Failing Schools makes no distinction between “bad teachers” with low Academic Growth Over Time scores and “bad teacher” pederasts. Bad teachers are bad. Reworking the battle slogan of Viet Nam era Green Berets (Itself reworked from 12th century crusaders); “Fire ‘em All – let God sort them out.”

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