Teachers Union Holding Vigils for 260 ‘Housed’ Members
Chase Niesner | December 9, 2013
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While American Federation of Teachers affiliates are holding a “National Day of Action” today, UTLA is planning four vigils in support of “housed” LA Unified teachers, those caught between allegations of misconduct and final rulings on their employment status.
Currently 260 such teachers are caught in so-called “teacher jails,” the consequence of what UTLA President Warren Fletcher describes as a “broken” teacher dismissal process. He blames Superintendent John Deasy.
“In recent years, since Deasy became superintendent, we have lots of people who just languish for weeks and months without any idea of what they’re accused of,” Fletcher told LA School Report. “It’s kafka-esque, it really is.”
Housed teachers aren’t actually in jail. They are paid to sit in district holding facilities during school hours and can return home at the end of the day.
Fletcher said he was hopeful a board resolution passed in April would address concerns that teachers are held in limbo for too long without adequate information on allegations against them. Sponsored by Tamar Galatzan, Monica Garcia, and Bennett Kayser, the resolution sought to require the district to notify teachers of the reason for their reassignment unless otherwise directed by law enforcement. It also resolved to create a separate team of professionally trained investigators to look into issues of misconduct.
LA Unified General Counsel David Holmquist said the new investigative team should be fully staffed and operational by next month and will lead to more thorough and expeditious reviews.
“Our goal is to get in front of the employees the nature of the accusations as soon as we’re able to do that, but typically that’s not going to be the moment they’re housed,” Homquist said in an interview. “We house employees so that we can conduct an investigation, and to ensure student safety, and to the extent that teachers’ rights would conflict with student safety, we’re always going to side with the students.”
Holmquist said law enforcement agencies typically advise district officials not to say anything about a case until the investigation is completed. Timetables are uncertain, he added, because investigators sometimes discover more victims.
“We share Mr. Fletcher’s goal of having expedited investigations, but when you have, as of today, 260 housed employees, it takes a while to do thorough investigations,” Holmquist said.
Holmquist calls speculation by Fletcher that the district disproportionally targets older teachers closer to retirement “absolutely false.” Fletcher said the union can only corroborate the claims anecdotally because the district withholds demographic information. As a result, the union has filed an unfair labor practice charge against the district to get the information.
“The District will not give us data about who’s located where, and it makes it very difficult for UTLA to represent its members,” Fletcher said. “UTLA needs to be a part of this process. We can’t even tell who comes and who goes.”