By Ashleigh Costello
LOS ANGELES – The number of Los Angeles Unified School District teachers banished to the infamous “rubber rooms” has more than doubled over the last year.
Nearly 300 teachers have been placed on administrative leave—more than double the number 18 months ago, reports the LAist.com. Of those teachers, only 50 have been placed on unpaid leave as the district takes the necessary steps to fire them.
The rise in disciplinary action is being attributed to the district’s tougher stance on teacher misconduct. The nation’s second largest district made headlines in February after Miramonte Elementary School teacher Mark Berndt was arrested for felony molestation of 23 kids. In response to the allegations, Superintendent John Deasy ordered the temporary replacement of all Miramonte’s teachers.
At the time, Deasy said, “We’re not going to spend a long time debating student safety.”
“You touch a child inappropriately, expect to lose your job. We have zero tolerance for inappropriate touching and that probably hasn’t always been the case, to this degree,” said David Holmquist, the districts’ general counsel.
Because it is very difficult to fire teachers accused of sexual misconduct (or anything else, for that matter), districts have little choice but to sequester those teachers to the so called rubber rooms. Banished from classrooms, most just sit around all day reading or listening to music, trying to pass the time—all the while collecting full pay and benefits.
That means the district is paying $1.4 million in salaries to teachers who are prohibited from teaching as investigations move forward, according to the news site. The district must spend an additional $865,000 to hire substitutes in their places.
United Teachers of Los Angeles President Warren Fletcher said he believes the district is on a witch hunt.
“LAUSD is using the process to get rid of teachers they don’t like or don’t want by launching misconduct investigations against them when there’s no reasonable belief on anyone’s part that any real misconduct occurred.”
Deasy promptly denied those claims, reiterating that the district’s number one priority is maintaining a safe environment for students.
“What we want is for students to be safe. A witch hunt would be if we were going after teachers. But the complaints come to us, and we’re responding by ensuring that policies are enforced,” he said.
New York City schools made headlines in May after it was reported that more than 200 teachers continue to sit in exile two years after the city supposedly eliminated the infamous rubber rooms.