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Students, teachers, parents at Hobart protest charges against Esquith

Mike Szymanski | August 17, 2015

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About 100 students, teachers and parents picketed Hobart Boulevard Elementary School this morning to protest the removal of celebrated teacher Rafe Esquith by LA Unified while an investigation continues, focused on him and his nonprofit program, the Hobart Shakespeareans.

Carrying signs that say “Reinstate Rafe” and chanting “Be Nice, Work Hard,” the students marched around the front of the school on the first day for the teachers and a new principal at the school. Students, parents and former co-workers alike all discounted any of the allegations from LA Unified that Esquith had inappropriate pictures and videos on his school computer or was involved in “inappropriate touching.” LA School Report confirmed last week that a Los Angeles Police investigation is also underway, but that didn’t undermine any support for Esquith.

“I just don’t believe he would do anything like that, it is so gross,” said Angie Shin, 13, who said she spent many years waking up at 5 a.m. to get to school early to help out Esquith in his famed Classroom 56. Now going into 9th grade at Fairfax High School, Shin said, “I have never felt uncomfortable around him. He was someone I could go to with problems. I do not know who I was before I met him.”

Shin said she learned organization skills, how to avoid procrastination and how to be kind to others from Esquith. She said she knew a lot of students who have dropped out of the Hobart school program because he is gone. She played the part of a Novice Nun in the Shakespeare play “Measure for Measure,” and she understood what she was saying. “He changed my life in so many ways,” she said.

Annie Han and her husband are active parent volunteers at the school and have never had any hesitation with Esquith, nor ever heard any complaints.

“I am so aware of these things, I have told my children since pre-school to be careful of inappropriate boundaries, and I have never ever felt my children were unsafe with Mr. Esquith,” said Han, whose son Noah has worked with the Hobart Shakespeareans since third grade and would have entered his class in fifth grade this year. Her daughter two years ago thrived in his class. “I would be the first person to be careful of such a thing, but my children have always felt safe in his class. My son prefers to go to his classroom during lunch than play with other children during recess. This is a teacher who has inspired children.”

Han points out that her son is labeled “gifted” and would be bored without a challenge, and she appreciated that Esquith gave faster learners more challenging work. Now, she and her husband are considering home schooling their son.

Former teacher Kurt Ingham retired this year, and quipped that he never thought he’d see himself back at Hobart on the first day of school again.

“This is important, I am appalled beyond description that they have treated him this way,” said Ingham, who remembered when Esquith was taken out of school last year so suddenly. “No one knew what was going on, and we still can’t believe it. He is the best teacher and best person I have known.”

Ingham taught mostly third graders at Hobart and worked alongside Esquith for years. He also helped with the Hobart Shakespearean performances and said, “I’ve only seen Rafe spend his own money with that group and work tirelessly with the programs.”

Ingham’s wife, Heather Harris, said, “This is like attacking Albert Schweitzer or Mother Teresa. We have been going to their shows for more than a dozen years and it’s amazing to see their shows. It’s better than most professionals, and then you realize, these just happen to be kids!”

After about an hour of the protest, one of Esquith’s attorneys, Ben Meiselas, showed up at the school and said, “This is the beginning of a series of protests that we will be doing against LAUSD to highlight the unfairness of the teacher jails.”

Meiselas, who filed a class action lawsuit against the district, pointed to the LA Unified police at the entrances of the school as the protestors walked on the sidewalks and said, “This shows what the priorities of the school district is, with the police guarding a school against the students. They are making it a lot worse for themselves.”

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