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Teachers union talking strategy for combatting teacher jail

Vanessa Romo | August 19, 2014

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Teacher Jail LAUSDWhile officials from the teachers union, UTLA, are contemplating salary demands in a new labor contract with the district, they have not lost sight of another key issue, how to deal with teachers housed in what union officials derisively call “teacher jails.”

The union’s Committee for Unjustly Housed Teachers was meeting today, for the first time this school year, in a strategy session to determine how to tackle what they view as the district’s abusive use of the “teacher jails.”

“We need to develop a plan for getting the district to follow the policies that they have in place for housed teachers,” committee point chair, Colleen Schwab told LA School Report before the meeting. “That’s our goal, at the minimum. To get them to do what they said they would.”

Schwab, who’s co-lead of the committee since its inception a year ago, stressed that the teachers union has no intention of calling for the complete elimination jails.

“Obviously, we need a place for teachers who could harm students while the district conducts its investigations,” she said. “But there has to be a better solution than what is happening right now.”

The union contends that the LA Unified administrators, including Superintendent John Deasy in particular, have ramped up the practice of pulling unwanted teachers out of classroom under the guise of protecting students. UTLA estimates more than 300 teachers are currently reporting to work at district offices or have been re-assigned to work from home.

Once there, many teachers report they are not informed about the charges against them, and sometimes, as in the recent case of choir director Iris Stevenson, are returned to their jobs without any explanation of what happened or the results of the investigation.

“What we see now more than ever, are teachers being pulled out for reasons other than student safety,” Schwab said, before adding that one teacher she’s spoken to has been removed from the classroom while the district looks into the handling of school club funds.

“That’s not what these policies were written for,” Schwab said. “No kid is in danger in that case.”

The issue of teacher jail has reached a critical point as the union continues labor negotiations with the district. Schwab says the committee has not decided how strongly it will push to make reforms part of the official contract talks though she says, “I’m sure it’s going to come up one way or another, but we might decide to keep working with the district outside of those talks.”

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