The superintendent of the Los Angeles United School District has announced a change in policy that will allow suspended teachers to remain at home during working hours instead of being forced to report to district offices, a practice commonly known as "teacher jail".
Superintendent John Deasy announced the change earlier this week for educators who are facing allegations of misconduct, writes Howard Blume of The Los Angeles Times.
The United Teachers of Los Angeles union had been working for some time to change the "jail" practice, stating that other government agencies don't have similar policies. The union took credit for Deasy's decision, but the school district said it was not swayed by the union.
"There are costs associated with maintaining employees in a workplace," district general counsel David Holmquist said. "There are supervision issues. There also are other opportunities to use the space."
While suspended, teachers continue to be paid, but could do only the work assigned, which included tasks such as filing. They were to have no contact with their schools or substitutes. The number of housed teachers doubled after the 2012 arrest of teacher Mark Berndt, who was sentenced to 25 years in prison after he was convicted of 23 counts of lewd conduct against his students. The number of teachers in "teacher jail" rose to more than 400 at times.
The union has fought to have teachers who" pose no threat" returned to their classrooms. Holmquist explained that suspended teachers should stay away from schools because of the danger of "compromising evidence or witnesses".
Union leaders say that home-based suspensions do not address the on-going issues of:
- A loss of connection for the accused
- The presumption of guilt without due process
- Unfair dismissals
- Teachers not being informed of their charges
CBS Los Angeles reports that last September, Crenshaw High School music teacher and choir director Iris Stevenson, was suspended for missing school because of an unsanctioned field trip, when she, along with her choir, traveled to perform President Barack Obama.
This suspension drew attention to the "teacher jails", reports Stephen Oduntan on the United Teachers Los Angeles' website. In the wake of this event, accusations abounded that Stevenson was being targeted because of her involvement in the effort to stop Crenshaw High School, a minority school, from being changed to a private charter school. Therefore, say some, she is being bullied into quitting, since she cannot be fired because of her tenure status.
Hoku Jeffery , an organizer for By Any Means Necessary, an advocate for equality, said:
"Charter schools are not required to enroll students with special needs, or students who speak English as a second language like public schools are obligated. This is why students need teachers like Dr. Stevenson in public schools. She's a role model. She brings out the best in all students by encouraging their creativity and individuality. But while she sits in "teacher jail" – students are losing out on quality education."
Even age discrimination is being brought into the fracas. Stories are told of teachers older than 60 being targeted with complaints of wrong-doing so that the state can be relieved of paying the 8.25% pension costs and health benefits given to older teachers.