The Los Angeles Board of Education has voted to fire nationally-recognized teacher Rafe Esquith as the result of a misconduct investigation that included allegations that he made lewd jokes to his students and inappropriately touched minors.
The 61-year-old educator, who has long since taught at the Hobart Avenue Elementary School and received national attention for his teaching and bestselling books, continues to deny any wrongdoing.
While the LAUSD does not comment on confidential personnel matters, district spokeswoman Monica Carazo issued the following statement: “In the event the Board of Education votes to dismiss a certificated employee, notice of its intent to dismiss is promptly submitted to the employee and an opportunity for an administrative hearing follows thereafter.”
The school board came to a unanimous vote on the issue behind closed doors and enacted termination proceedings against Esquith, who had been removed from his classroom in April after another educator made a complaint concerning a joke Esquith had told his students relating to nudity. An investigation began as a result of the complaint, which quickly encompassed a number of misconduct allegations, writes Zahira Torres for The Los Angeles Times.
District officials told Esquith’s attorneys in August that they were investigating claims that he had inappropriately touched minors before and during his 30-year teaching career. The district went on to say that they had “revealed multiple inappropriate photographs and videos of a sexual nature.” Other allegations involved possible “ethical and district policy violations” relating to his nonprofit, the Hobart Shakespeareans.
While teachers are allowed to have a hearing before the school board votes on disciplinary matters, Esquith chose not to do so. His attorneys said he chose not to participate, believing that the district had already determined what the outcome would be.
“At that point we said the litigation is going to take its course. We’ll see you in court,” attorney Ben Meiselas told The Times last week.
In response to the investigation, a $1 billion class-action lawsuit was filed against the district, alleging it conducts “witch hunts” against older teachers such as Esquith in an effort to save money on retirement benefits, including pensions and health care. The suit was filed on behalf of 2,000 teachers.
The lawsuit argues that the district places teachers nearing retirement age in “teacher jail,” which encompasses spending time in administrative offices or at home as they await the outcome of investigations, which most of the time lead to firings.
While district officials could not say exactly how many teachers had been put in “teacher jail” in the past five years, district attorney David Holmquist did say that around 170 of the 31,748 teachers in the district are currently under investigation. Fewer than half are expected to return, reports Ann O’Neill for CNN.
An LA Unified spokeswoman said Esquith was no longer being paid by the district.