By Victor Skinner
LOS ANGELES – Los Angeles school board member Tamar Galatzan wants teachers accused of sexual abuse of students to be told the reason they’ve been removed from the classroom, and the expected length of the district’s investigation.
Galatzan, a prosecutor with the Los Angeles city attorney’s office, said some cases have bogged down because of bureaucracy as the school district struggles to handle a flood of complaints that have come in since news broke of Miramonte Elementary School teacher Mark Berndt’s grotesque behavior with his students, the LA Times reports.
“Everyone agreed the process wasn’t working,” Galatzan said.
Berndt was arrested in 2012 for allegedly spoon-feeding his semen to blindfolded students and other terrible things, but has pleaded not guilty, the news site reports.
Since his arrest, the number of teachers pulled from their classrooms because of abuse or sexual abuse complaints has skyrocketed.
“Before Miramonte, about 160 teachers were out of classrooms and schools, either ordered to stay home or to report to district offices to wait out the work day doing nothing in so-called ‘teacher jails.’ Last week, the number was 322, even as teacher dismissals also have spiked upward,” according to the LA Times.
“The number is a minuscule percentage of the workforce, but the cost of substitute employees nonetheless runs into millions of dollars.”
Galatazan proposed a faster timeline for investigations and training for principals conducting district investigations. She wants employees to be told why they are removed from class, unless it would jeopardize a law enforcement investigation, as well as how long the investigation might take and whether accused teachers will be paid while in limbo, the LA Times reports.
Meanwhile, LA school officials continue to lobby for changes to state laws that would speed up teacher dismissals, specifically by giving authority to terminate a teacher to school officials, rather than current resolutions that are handled by a panel comprised of teachers and a judge.
The United Teachers Los Angeles, the city’s teachers union, is more concerned with “due process rights” than the safety of students.
“I can think of about 30 things in (Galatzan’s proposal) that I might take issue with, but it’s important that one of the school board members is coming forward and talking about this issue,” UTLA President Warren Fletcher told the Times.
Fortunately, it seems LA schools Superintendent John Deasy is focused on what matters most.
“Children’s safety comes first,” Deasy said. “We were not always that explicit in the past.”