Los Angeles Mayor Wants Easier Teacher Removal Guidelines

The Berndt case has pushed LA Mayor Villaraigosa to write to the California Governor Jerry Brown about reforming a teacher dismissal system he calls ‘broken’.

In a letter to the Governor of California, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has requested that dismissal procedures be streamlined for teachers who have violated the public trust.

This comes in the wake of the case at Miramonte Elementary in which teacher Mark Berndt was removed from his post for allegedly spoonfeeding bodily fluids to his students in addition to taking bondage photos of the children in the classroom during school hours. This case highlighted that it has become impossible to remove a teacher even for gross affronts to public decency and widespread sexual abuse of his position — and the children under his care.

Mark Berndt was paid $40,000 by the school district to resign instead of appealing a decision to dismiss him, which has also allowed him to keep his entitlement to lifetime health benefits. He will retain these benefits even if convicted, although the school district is likely to challenge this in court.

The Los Angeles Mayor takes particular exception to the status quo that ensures even teachers such as Mark Berndt retain entitlement to full benefits, and that in a clear cut case such as this one it still costs the district upwards of $300,000 to remove a teacher.

The full text of the letter appears below:

Dear Governor Brown:

I write to urge you to revise the portions of the teacher dismissal laws that make it difficult to dismiss teachers who violate the public trust of our families and students. Recent events in the Los Angeles Unified School District highlight the need to reevaluate state dismissal policies to ensure the safety of our students while simultaneously ensuring equal protection for all of our hard working, law abiding teachers.

While state policies must protect the many educators who are doing great work, they must not become obstacles that hinder the immediate termination of employees who engage in criminal behavior and harm children.

The process to remove a teacher — even one who is accused of abuse — is so onerous that in the case at Miramonte Elementary in the LAUSD a teacher was paid $40,000 to leave the profession and on average dismissal proceedings cost the district $300,000. While it is the district’s responsibility to follow the law to remove a teacher, it is the state’s duty to ensure that the process is not so irrational and arduous that districts are forced to make these kids of decisions which encourage resignation as opposed to dismissal.

Moving to dismiss a teacher triggers what can be more than a twelve-step process, often lasting several years. This can be mitigated by giving school boards more authority to dismiss teachers when the situation warrants this. Additionally, the process itself can be streamlined by shortening the length of time between appeals, limiting right to appeals, and/or leaving the final dismissal decision up to an administrative judge.

Further, teachers that engage in misconduct or criminal behavior should NOT be rewarded with full benefits and pensions.

As community leaders, it is our utmost duty to ensure sound laws that protect our children and enable parents to have confidence that their kids will be safe at school, while supporting and shielding our dedicated educators from unfair practices. I look forward to working with the LA delegation to put forth legislation on this issue.

Very truly yours,

Antonio R. Villaraigosa
Mayor

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