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Union To Ask LA Unified Board for a Stay On Dismissals*

Hillel Aron | October 14, 2013

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UTLA President Warren Fletcher

UTLA President Warren Fletcher

The Los Angeles teachers union will ask the LA Unified Board of Education to temporarily suspend the two most recent rounds of teacher dismissals, which the board approved in closed sessions this month and last month.

“Teachers want to make sure that if there are any bad guys in the classroom, that they stop being in the classroom,” union President  Warren Fletcher, said in an interview. “But this system leads to many innocent educators being scooped up in the dragnet.”

Every time a teacher is fired in California, local school boards meet behind closed doors to review the dismissals. These meetings are often pro forma; the LAUSD board routinely votes unanimously to approve all of the recommended firings.

A group of UTLA activists is up in arms over the Sept. 17 board meeting, when, according to Fletcher, the dismissal of over 30 teachers was approved. UTLA activists have taken to calling the day “Black Tuesday.”

“The teachers did not know that their names were coming up,” said, Scott Mandel, a member of the UTLA board. “None of them had gotten previous notification at all. And the board accepted their dismissal recommendation without comment, and nobody questioned anything. They didn’t see the other side, they didn’t see any defense.”

At a special meeting of the union’s board, a motion by Mandel passed unanimously to ask the school board for a “stay” on all dismissals approved in the recent closed meetings.

“We want the board members to review [the teachers’] cases,” said Mandel. “These charges are absolutely ridiculous. A lot of them are trumped up, false and exaggerated.”

The motion is expected to be a approved by UTLA’s governing body, the 350-member House of Representatives, tomorrow night, where it will then become official union policy.

David Holmquist, the district’s general counsel, said that the dismissals that the Board approved of in September were high because dismissals aren’t initiated during the summer, although he added: “There’s no doubt that we have been raising the bar, and one of the consequences of that is there are going to be more dismissals.”

Holmquist denied UTLA’s claim that board members don’t have all the information they need to make a determination.

“I can’t talk about what we do in closed session, because it’s confidential,” he said. “But I will say that in my opinion, the board has all they need to make a proper decision.”

As far as Fletcher’s charge that LA Unified hasn’t provided UTLA with a list of all housed teachers, Holmquist said that the district provides the union with a partial list of housed employees, with some names left out – the names of employees that wish to remain anonymous.

The number of teachers fired in LAUSD has risen sharply under the leadership of Superintendent John Deasy – the result of an intentional policy decision, on his part, to weed out teachers that are found guilty of misconduct, but also teachers who have gotten two “unsatisfactory” evaluations in a row. Many UTLA activists accuse Deasy of being on a “witch hunt” to fire old teachers with higher salaries.

After teachers are dismissed, they can appeal to the state, a process that can drag on for years and cost both sides hundreds of thousands of dollars in lawyers fees. Once dismissed, teachers stop receiving a salary.

Earlier this year, UTLA filed an unfair labor practice charge with the Public Employee Relations Board, saying that the district was failing to provide the union with a list of “housed teachers.”

Before teachers are dismissed, they are often taken out of the classrooms and placed into “teacher jails” or “rubber rooms.” These teachers are “housed” while the district conducts investigations into alleged misconduct – often without knowing their charge, or knowing how long they are to be housed.

“The district, at multiple points, creates obstacles for UTLA to know who is even housed, or subject to dismissal proceedings,” said Fletcher.

*Updates with response from David Holmquist, LA Unified chief legal counsel.


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