Los Angeles Now Has Its Own Rubber Room Problem

New York City isn't the only district to employ so-called "rubber rooms." The Los Angeles Daily News reports that nearly 300 Los Angeles Unified School District teachers now spend their days in administrative offices where they wait for outcomes of their disciplinary hearings, meanwhile doing nothing but blogging, texting or reading. These teachers can't be returned to the classroom until their cases are settled, yet they continue to collect their paychecks from the district.

The cost to maintain these "rubber rooms" – commonly called "teacher jails" in LA – is substantial. The salary costs alone run up to $1.4 million per month, which doesn't include the nearly $900,000 the district pays the substitutes who fill in to teach in the classrooms previously fronted by those "jailed."

Los Angeles Unified officials insist the cost is worth it – the price the district has to pay for years of downplaying or ignoring suspected abuse. That practice exploded into a major scandal in February with revelations of longtime patterns of misconduct by teachers at Telfair Elementary in Pacoima and Miramonte Elementary in South L.A. | Read "Where the Miramonte, Telfair abuse cases stand" Now, under a new zero-tolerance policy, scores of educators accused of misconduct have been pulled from classrooms and are facing dismissal. The number of housed teachers has more than doubled in the last 18 months.

The stricter enforcement means that until the district takes steps to decrease the time it takes to carry the disciplinary process to completion, the number of teachers who are being paid to do essentially nothing will continue to grow. And that will inevitably include a certain number of teachers who have been cleared of the charges against them, but who will not go back to teaching in a classroom because district officials think they are unfit.

The policy used by the LAUSD to resolve disciplinary matters is being analyzed by the California State Auditor's office, which is set to release its report – compiled at the request of Assemblyman Ricardo Lara, D-South Gate – this week.

The audit is likely to address LAUSD's more aggressive approach to pulling educators from the classroom – so many, in fact, that housed teachers are split into morning and afternoon shifts, with the balance of their "workday" spent at home. Teachers union leaders say they certainly want to rid their ranks of abusers, but they believe the district is overreacting to the scandal and wasting precious resources by failing to differentiate between an inadvertent touch and predatory behavior.

However, district officials resent the implication that they're pulling the trigger too early when it comes to taking teachers out of the classroom, as current guidelines call for teachers to be removed only in the cases where "credible allegations" are lodged against them.

Yet this doesn't seem to be the impression formed in the minds of those who are sentenced to teacher jails. An overwhelming majority of those interviewed believed that the system is set up to deny them due process and keep them out of the classroom for an extended period of time.

Employees complain that they have to sign in and out, even to use the restroom, and that they're not allowed to visit with their fellow teachers in adjoining cubicles. While the district policy says teachers should be required to perform "duties within their job classification," housed teachers say there's no real work for them to do, so they spend their time reading, blogging or talking.

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