Most in LAUSD ‘jail’ facing charges of sexual misconduct, violence
Mike Szymanski | July 17, 2015
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Despite persistent concerns about teachers sexually harassing or abusing students in the classroom, only slightly more than a third of the teachers and other school personnel currently in LA Unified’s so-called “teacher jail” have been accused of sexual misconduct, according to the district’s latest accounting.
Almost the same number are facing accusations of “violence.”
As of July 1, a total of 174 district employees, the vast majority of them teachers, have been taken out of classrooms, awaiting the results of an investigation into charges. The total includes 65 accused of questionable sexual abuse or harassment, about 37 percent, while the rest face accusations on a variety of other issues, including 55 (or 32 percent) who have been cited for violent acts.
The total reflects 151 certificated employees and 23 classified, such as teacher assistants, library aides, janitors and other support staff.
The list, made available to LA School Report, is the first comprehensive breakdown of misconduct allegations being investigated by the district’s Student Safety Investigative Team (SSIT). And while it suggests that large numbers of personnel are still being taken out classrooms and schools for the goal of protecting students, it also shows that the district is making progress on clearing cases at a faster pace than in years past.
The district said today that the number of housed district employees reached a peak on April 9, 2013, with 322 teachers who were removed from classrooms.
“The district continues to deal with the housed teachers situation as quickly as possible, and they have expanded the staff and the scope for the investigations,” said Shannon Haber, the LAUSD district spokeswoman. “As of July 1, the SSIT is investigating all sexual and nonsexual allegations which have resulted in the teachers being reassigned.”
In a statement, UTLA said: “The ‘teacher jail’ system that ballooned under former Superintendent John Deasy was broken. In our new collective bargaining agreement with LAUSD, important changes were made that protect both students and due process rights of educators.”
On the other hand, the union still expressed concerns that the district was using teacher jail inappropriately.
“Allegations that do not involve safety should not result in an educator being removed from the classroom—a move that is disruptive to students,” the statement said. “Unfortunately educators have been stuck in ‘teacher jail’ over concerns about field trips and science experiments, or for simply questioning a principal’s decisions. We are hopeful that the changes we negotiated will put an end to these practices.”
Suzanne Spurgeon, the union spokeswoman, added, “UTLA will be meeting with LAUSD monthly to review cases under the new contract language.”
The issue of teacher jail — more formally know as “housed teachers” — has been a persistent and contentious issue between the district and the teachers for years. Throughout his campaign for the union presidency last year and again during negotiations for a new labor contract this year, Alex Caputo-Pearl demanded an end to teacher jail, insisting that the district intentionally delayed in resolving cases and unfairly denied teachers a full explanation of why they have been removed.
Through sustained pressure from the union, the district agreed to make the process more transparent and expedite case resolution.
The latest statistics show that 65 of classified and certified personnel were taken out of the classroom for sexual abuse or harassment allegations. The vast majority of the cases, 62, involved a minor while the other three involved another adult. In five cases, the incident happened to non-LAUSD victims.
The second-largest category was violence, accounting for 55 removals — almost 32 percent — although the district did not break down what sorts of incidents were involved. Another 14 people were removed in each of two infraction categories — “inappropriate language” and “below standard performance.”
Other reasons that teachers were taken out of the classrooms include: “Failure to report child abuse” (4), “Finances” (3), “Accepted use policy violations,” for things like inappropriate software use (2) and “Drugs/Alcohol” (2).
The school board in 2013 instructed former Superintendent John Deasy to set up a team of professional investigators to speed up investigations of allegations of abuse and sexual misconduct against teachers and other employees. At that time, the focus was primarily accusations of sexual abuse against students, in part, due to major scandals of misconduct by teachers the year before at Telfair Elementary in Pacoima and Miramonte Elementary in south Los Angeles.
By January 2014, the district created the SSIT to accelerate investigations with a staff of seven. But over the last year or so, the staff grew to 15 as the district expanded the mission to include investigations on a wider array of alleged violations.
For now, some teachers are allowed to stay at their homes during the period of investigation while other spend time at a district holding facility during school hours, and can return home by the end of the day. They are not allowed to have computer access or work on school activities while being reassigned.