Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent John Deasy came under heavy fire in the wake of a sex abuse scandal that revealed elementary teacher Mark Berndt’s years of sexual misconduct in an LAUSD school. After February, 2012’s revelation that the district had a serious problem with identifying and dealing with potential abuse, LAUSD increased its efforts to remove offending teachers from their classrooms.
And now approximately 600 Los Angeles teachers are seeing those efforts bear fruit. Barbara Jones of The Mendocino Beacon reports that LAUSD has fired 100 teachers, forced 200 to resign and removed 300 more from the classroom as allegations of abuse are investigated.
The mass effort appears to be the result of a culture change in LAUSD. In the past, as in nearly all major school systems nationwide, dealing with allegations of misconduct in Los Angeles were difficult and expensive. It could take several years of hearings and appeals — all of which cost the district — to fire a teacher. Principals who took the necessary steps to remove teachers from classrooms rarely had their requests honored by boards, which meant that teachers would be returned to the school and often instigated a negative professional climate.
But now that administrators have the support of LAUSD, they’re coming forth in droves to deal with complaints about teacher misconduct that include sexual contact, emotional/mental abuse and corporal abuse — and some of the allegations are nothing short of outrageous:
“God, how do I even explain this?” Deasy asked, before recounting that a Westside elementary teacher in his early 60s “trained” his students to give him a full-body massage for 20 minutes every day while he “rested.” Youngsters, including some special-education students, later told officials that he shouted profanities, spanked them and hit them with rolled-up papers when they misbehaved.
Not everyone is pleased with the crackdown, though. United Teachers Los Angeles, the city’s teachers union, has called it a “witch hunt” and charged the district with hasty, poorly-conducted investigations and a mood of guilty until proven innocent. A lawyer for UTLA summed up the union’s position:
“Every case must be judged on its own merits,” Schwab said. “But in a number of cases, the nature of the charges haven’t been appropriately investigated or have been too vigorously pursued and the evidence never supported such allegations.”
44 teachers have been investigated and cleared of allegations.
Legislators have also worked to streamline the process of investigating allegations, filing charges and dismissing teachers. AB 375, a bill introduced to the California Assembly, could fare better than previous attempts:
Assembly Bill 375 would set a deadline of seven months for the administrative appeal, start to finish. It has the support of UTLA and the California Teachers Association, which last year lobbied strongly against a bill that would have given a school board the final say in firing a teacher. Under heavy lobbying by the unions, that measure died in committee.
Despite the uncertain future of LAUSD’s aggressive project to end teacher misconduct, Deasy has expressed a solid commitment to deal with the issue. Of the prior practice of paying accused teachers to drop their appeals, Deasy said, “Not on my watch.”