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Los Angeles Times Comes Out Against “Teacher Jail”

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Author: dianeravitch

This is a welcome editorial in the Los Angeles Times, criticizing what is known in that district as “teacher jail.” The suspension of Rafe Esquith brought this issue to the fore. John Deasy suspended the entire staff of Miramonte Elementary School after two teachers under investigation for sexual abuse, and eventually almost all of them were returned to the school. Los Angeles seems to have an unhealthy culture of suspecting the worst of teachers.

The Times writes:

In 2012, the entire 110-member staff of Miramonte Elementary School was pulled off campus after accusations of molestation were leveled at two teachers. Mark Berndt pleaded no contest to charges involving feeding semen-laced cookies to blindfolded students; charges against the second teacher were ultimately dropped (and he has since left the district). Everyone else spent the rest of the school year cooling their heels in a new, not-yet-opened school.

John Deasy, who was then superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District, justified the move by saying he was concerned there might be a culture of sexual abuse at Miramonte. All staff files were scrutinized. But in only a couple of cases were there previous allegations of abuse; a few other teachers were found to have broken minor, unrelated rules, and most of the staff returned to Miramonte the following year.

At first this looked like nothing more than an honest effort to protect children, after Miramonte administrators had rebuffed earlier complaints. But it was the start of a troubling series of teacher suspensions at other schools that disrupted students’ education and that notably did not involve their safety. These suspensions with pay during often lengthy investigations are known as “teacher jail”; teachers largely spend the time at home while substitutes who often are less qualified take their places.

With classes beginning Aug. 18, the many admirers of Hobart Elementary teacher Rafe Esquith are wondering whether he’ll be there to greet a new batch of fifth-graders after four months in teacher jail. His case, and those of others before him, raise troubling questions about whether the teacher investigation system is causing too much disruption at L.A. Unified schools.

LAUSD seems to treat teachers as guilty until proven innocent. The editorial recommends:


By all means, investigate when necessary. But L.A. Unified should not overreact by removing teachers over allegations that have nothing to do with student safety. The district must put student welfare first, and their welfare is not served by disrupting the school year. It’s time for an independent examination by the district’s Office of the Inspector General.

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