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Cases settled in firing of Shakespeare teacher Rafe Esquith

Mike Szymanski | September 13, 2017

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Students and parents protested Esquith’s dismissal last year.

LA Unified has settled three cases involving the firing of Rafe Esquith, a celebrated teacher who won many national and international awards, the district announced late Tuesday.

The case ends a threatened $1 billion federal class-action lawsuit against the district by attorney Mark Geragos, who was representing Esquith about 2,000 other teachers in opposing the district’s policy of holding employees in a “teacher’s jail” while being investigated by the school’s Student Safety Investigation Team (SSIT). 

Esquith is an author and teacher who started the Hobart Shakespeareans, an after-school theater club at Hobart Elementary School in Koreatown. He was taken out of the classroom after making a joke about performing in the nude like the king in Mark Twain’s “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” and later the district brought up other allegations of inappropriate behavior and mismanagement of funds with trips involving his Shakespeare club. No charges have ever been filed against Esquith, who was supported by actors such as Ian McKellen and Hal Holbrook in his fight against the district.

Now 63, Esquith continues to teach and run Shakespeare workshops at a private facility in LA, still under the Hobart name. 

The settlement between Esquith and the district will allow him to receive lifetime health benefits estimated at $250,000, including for his wife. It also rescinds his termination.

In the joint statement, it says that the teacher “has tendered his resignation, effective October 31, 2015, and L.A. Unified has retroactively accepted it. Mr. Esquith has helped teachers become more aware of the administrative reassignment process in place.”

As late as last week, Ben Meiselas, part of the Geragos team representing Esquith, said he was preparing to take depositions of top district administrators. The settlement gives the attorneys $150,000 to cover a portion of their legal fees.

In Tuesday’s closed session, the school board approved the tentative settlement in a 6-1 vote, with Nick Melvoin as the one dissenting vote.

In a statement, Melvoin said Wednesday, “I voted not to authorize a payment of funds in a case where the District had good reason to take the action it did to protect students.”

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