Teachers protest L.A. Unified's process for misconduct investigations
Critics say district's approach to misconduct allegations presumes guilt and results in dismissal for even small infractions.
By Stephen Ceasar, LA Times | http://lat.ms/18zpgSM
December 9, 2013, 8:33 p.m. :: Scores of teachers protested Monday against the conditions under which the L.A. Unified School District handles teachers who are facing allegations of misconduct.
United Teachers Los Angeles members held "vigils" outside four L.A. Unified offices where many of the teachers are "housed" until their cases are adjudicated — either by law enforcement authorities or by the district itself.
The union says that teachers are kept in these offices for far longer than necessary and that, in some cases, they are unjustly fired even after an allegation is proven untrue.
At a demonstration in Van Nuys, protesters marched in front of the offices, decrying the practice as unfair to the accused.
"What kind of school district removes a teacher from the classroom if a 13-year-old said so?" said Colleen Schwab, a teacher and union representative, over a loudspeaker. "This one," teachers shouted in response.
Teachers union president Warren Fletcher told protesters that they must stand by their fellow teachers as they are unjustly held.
"We will turn this into a district where the truth reigns," Fletcher said.
During his remarks, any mention of Supt. John Deasy was received with loud boos.
"We got close to dethroning the teacher jailer — we will try again," Fletcher said, adding later that the comment was meant as a metaphor for the entire district.
The union is calling on the school system to end the practice of keeping teachers in these offices; inform instructors of allegations against them within 10 days of removal from the classroom; and conduct an independent review of all dismissals by the Los Angeles Board of Education since 2012.
Deasy declined to comment specifically on the demonstrations, saying that the district prioritizes the security of students, teachers and others at schools above all else.
"Our responsibility is the safety of the students and the other adults in the system," he said in an interview.
The superintendent said the majority of incidents involving teachers and others involves activity that occurred outside the schools. And, he said, there have been improvements made in the investigations process since last year.
Allegations of sexual misconduct at Miramonte Elementary School in early 2012 sparked a surge of investigations of teachers. More than 300 were removed from schools and assigned to these district offices or to their homes. Most of those continue to be paid.
That number has since dropped to about 260, L.A. Unified said.
District policy requires that employees be told why they have been pulled from the job — if such disclosure doesn't compromise law enforcement investigations. Instructors also are required to be advised quickly about the expected length of the inquiry.
David Holmquist, L.A. Unified's general counsel, said the district shares the union's interest in a swift resolution, but that investigations by the district often are delayed to comply with requests by law enforcement.
The district is hiring a team of professional investigators to assist principals with investigations.
The added manpower should speed the process, Holmquist said.
Some teachers, however, are not satisfied that district policy is followed or goes far enough to promote fairness.
Fletcher said that while the policies appear good on paper, the district doesn't follow its own rules.
"It has become a form of nearly indefinite detention," he said.
Critics accuse Deasy and other district officials of employing a zero-tolerance approach to misconduct that presumes guilt and moves inevitably toward dismissal for even minor infractions.
Holmquist said the district does not presume guilt of its teachers, but rather insists on being thorough in its investigations.
"When it comes time to balance the rights of adults and the safety of students, we're always going to choose the students," he said. "We have to make student safety the most important thing."
Despite the failure of earlier efforts, district officials continue to seek changes to state law that would allow for speedier dismissals.
Protests against LAUSD’s ‘teacher jails’ held
By Susan Abram, Los Angeles Daily News http://bit.ly/18k5yg1
12/09/13, 7:53 PM PST :: Calling for an end to what they say is harassment, hundreds of United Teachers Los Angeles members rallied at district offices across the city late Monday afternoon to support educators removed from classrooms and housed in so-called teacher jails while allegations of misconduct are investigated.
More then 50 UTLA members withstood chilly temperatures to protest outside the Educational Service Center in Van Nuys, one of four district offices where demonstrations were held. UTLA president Warren Fletcher led the crowd in chants of “End the lies!,” then asked the group to spread the word in their own schools about how the Los Angeles Unified School District handles allegations of misconduct.
What used to be a system in which suspected teachers were investigated and reassigned, has become a long, drawn out process, with educators uncertain of what they are being accused of, Fletcher said.
“There are teachers, nurses and counselors being carted off,” he said. “The system has been perverted.”
There are 260 teachers currently being housed, said Sean Rossall, spokesman for the general counsel at LAUSD.
Under the system that many educators call “teacher jail,” those accused of misconduct are housed in district offices while administrators investigate misconduct allegations. The process can drag on for months, with teachers collecting their full pay — an average of $6,000 a month, plus benefits — until they’re returned to work or fired.
The district has taken a strict approach because of last year’s sex abuse scandals at Miramonte and Telfair elementary schools, which prompted a spike in complaints. The district also enacted a zero-tolerance policy for abuse, and dozens of teachers have been fired as a result.
“Anytime we receive a credible allegation for misconduct, we allow law enforcement to conduct their investigation, and from there we conduct the administrative investigation,” Rossall said. “The issue is anytime there is an allegation, we’re going to err on the side of the students.”
In April, a proposal to streamline the process passed the school board. The proposal, made by board member Tamar Galatzan, would take investigations of alleged physical or sexual abuse away from principals and into the hands of professionals. Teachers also have to be told why they’re being pulled from classrooms.
But UTLA members complained that the process is stagnant and said the process itself is unfair.
An online team of professional investigators is expected to be up and running by the end of January, Rossall said.