By Patrick Healy, KNBC News | NBC Southern California http://bit.ly/13s0BwZ
[ CLICK FOR VIDEO ] - An NBC4 exclusive about LAUSD teachers suspected of misconduct uncovers some of the hang-ups that are causing delays in the investigations. California taxpayers are currently picking up the tab for those delays.Patrick Healy reports for NBC4 News at 5 p.m. on Sept. 6, 2013.
Friday, Sep 6, 2013 | Updated 11:32 PM PDT :: Teachers suspected of abusing children will be investigated by a new generation of school staff with backgrounds in law enforcement and child protective services, according to the Los Angeles Unified School District.
"We're in the process of hiring right now," said Tamar Galatzan, the School Board member who last April got board approval for a series of measures to improve the district's ability to investigate allegations of employee sexual misconduct.
The District hopes to have the new investigative team in place by the end of December, according to a response memo from Michelle King, senior deputy superintendent for school operations.
The number of cases under investigation has increased significantly in the past two years. The uptick began after John Deasy became superintendent and brought a new emphasis on teacher discipline.
Then in early 2012, the charging of former Miramonte teacher Mark Berndt with abusing 23 children unleashed a flood of suspicions against other educators across the Southland.
Traditionally, the district has relied in most cases on principals to lead the investigations of suspect teachers at their schools.
"When they got to the investigations, the principals were overloaded and not trained for these sensitive investigations," Galatzan said.
The district is also in the process of setting up a computerized "data warehouse" to centralize and "consolidate misconduct, discipline, and investigation data," according to King's Aug. 29 memo.
In recent years, the increase in the number of teachers removed from classrooms has outstripped the district's ability to keep up with the investigations. When a teacher falls under suspicion of serious misconduct, district policy calls for the teacher to be removed immediately, and kept away from students.
Such teachers are typically assigned to report to district offices and during school hours to remain in offices known as "teacher jails." The district refers to those suspect teachers as being "housed."
During 2010-11, the average number of housed teachers was 144. The following year, that number increased to 248, then grew again last school year to 289, according to statistics provided by the LAUSD General Counsel's office.
The teacher jail population hit a peak of 320 last April.
In some cases, suspect but uncharged teachers remain housed for extended periods of time before the district makes a decision to proceed with dismissal or return them to the classroom.
"You're sent basically to do nothing," said Michael Griffin, a teacher removed from Crenshaw High School last October, and told to report each school day to a room on the 11th floor of the school District's downtown headquarters.
"It's too important not to say anything. Because it's wrong," Griffin said.
"The district has developed a system of indefinite detention," said Warren Fletcher, president of United Teachers Los Angeles. "It's a system that gums up the works."
While assigned to teacher jail, the suspect teachers remain on the district's payroll.
"Just sitting there, for days, weeks, months, if not years, is unacceptable," said Galatazan, an attorney who works as a prosecutor for the Los Angeles City Attorney. "We need to have a better, stronger system to resolve these."
Fletcher expressed hope that in cases where suspicions prove unfounded, district reforms will speed the return of those teachers to their classrooms. But he said the district needs to be more transparent and noted the district had not provided him a copy of King's response memo.
Fletcher also said the expert investigators the district is bringing in need to be "independent."
Many assigned to teacher jail contend some principals abuse the system to punish or get rid of teachers they don't like.
Galatzan acknowledged she has heard anecdotal evidence of such cases.
She observed that the current system offers a perverse incentive for a principal with such a motive not to expedite an investigation that would lead to the teacher's return.
When the new school year began last month, the count in the various teacher jails across the LA district had dropped from its spring high to 265. Galatzan sees that as a step in the right direction, and hopes the phase in of reforms can continue to reduce the number.
But she emphasized the district must keep the ability to remove teachers from the classroom when suspicion of serious misconduct is raised.
That means the district will continue to need places to re-assign them during the time it takes to vet the suspicion.
Professional investigation will also enable the district to make better decisions on cases, Galatzan said, and when dismissals are appealed, be better prepared to defend them.
Teacher in Limbo Accuses District of "Shotgun Justice"
Teacher contends anonymous woman's allegations they had sexual relations while she was underage
By Patrick Healy| NBC Southern California http://bit.ly/1aVc3px
[ CLICK FOR VIDEO ] : An NBC4 exclusive about LAUSD teachers suspected of misconduct uncovers some of the hang-ups that are causing delays in the investigations. California taxpayers are currently picking up the tab for those delays.Patrick Healy reports for NBC4 News at 5 p.m. on Sept. 6, 2013.
Saturday, Sep 7, 2013 | Updated 3:23 AM PDT :: At its best, assignment to "teacher jail" is mind-numbingly boring.
"You're sent basically to do nothing," said Michael Griffin, who taught 12 years at Crenshaw High before he was removed last October.
"They put us on a list and sent us there to sit and rot," Griffin said, making no effort to hide his bitterness.
Griffin said he would be the first to demand the removal of any teacher who abuses students. But he sees accountability flaws in a system that sets no time limit on how long a teacher can be left in limbo before the district makes a decision to seek dismissal.
Some teachers he met have waited years before their cases were resolved.
In his case, Griffin said he was notified by the principal that the school had received a call from a woman. She identified herself as a 27-year-old who had been in a relationship with Griffin 11 years earlier, when she was underage.
Griffin said he does not know who the woman is because it never happened. School district officials say privacy guarantees preclude them from discussing personnel matters.
NBC4 could not obtain any district comment on Griffin's situation.
Griffin recognizes there is greater public awareness and caution since the Miramonte allegations alarmed parents across Southern California.
Mark Berndt awaits trial on charges of abusing 23 elementary school students while he was teaching there.
"After the Miramonte situation, the principals are afraid," Griffin said. "So any allegation, they're sending the teacher to teacher jail. It's shotgun justice."
Every school day, Griffin reports to a room on the 11th floor of the school district's downtown headquarters on South Beaudry Avenue.
"You're supposed to be creating lesson plans. All mine are in order," he said.
Griffin is among those who contend the district's discipline system is vulnerable to abuse, offering an unscrupulous administrator the opportunity to get rid of a disliked teacher for an extended period of time based on nothing more than a vague suspicion.
"Just sitting there for days, weeks, months, if not years is unacceptable," said Board of Education member Tamar Galatzan. "We need to have a better, stronger process to resolve these."
LAUSD is now implementing Galatzan's April resolution calling for the hiring of a dedicated investigation team staffed by professionals with backgrounds in law enforcement and children's protective services.
Griffin suspects his re-assignment stems from a year of turmoil at Crenshaw. The high school has been transformed into three separate magnet programs. Fully half the faculty was not invited to return.
A dozen such teachers have filed grievances alleging unfair labor practices.
Griffin decided to pursue education as a career after serving in the US Marine Corps. He's raised two children. A daughter in her early 20s still lives at home. He relieves stress by riding motorcycles.
Griffin still wants to return to teaching. Not knowing when the district will act, he plans to return to graduate school to get a doctorate.
"I had a reputation in my community. There's no way to get that back, even with reinstatement," he said.
So why did he agree to speak out?
"It's too important not to say something. Because it's wrong."