By Victor Skinner
LOS ANGELES – Los Angeles school officials have ramped up their efforts to rid their district of abusive educators, and the work seems to be paying off.
After several high-profile cases of teachers sexually abusing students in LA schools, district officials implemented a zero-tolerance policy on abuse allegations in 2012 and vowed to be more vigilant in their defense of students.
Most recently, Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent John Deasy shared the personnel files of 58 men and 26 women the district has fired since its crackdown on educator misconduct, although the files didn’t include the roughly five dozen teachers who were either returned to the classroom or are involved in lawsuits or criminal proceedings, the Los Angeles News Group reports.
“In the past, the misdeeds detailed in the teachers’ files would likely have earned the offender a disciplinary memo, maybe a week’s suspension, perhaps a transfer to another school,” according to the news report. “Today, they’re grounds for firing.”
LA school board member Tamar Galatzan and Deasy said that since the district focused in on abusive educators, and got serious about pursuing termination for those accused, the number of complaints sent in by school principals has increased significantly.
“It feels like we are seeing more cases,” Galatzan told the news group. “We’ve heard from principals that, 10 years ago, many felt that if they jumped through all the hoops to recommend dismissal, the board wouldn’t back them and they would get a teacher back who not only had been reported for wrongdoing but was now hostile.
“Now, principals know that their recommendation will be supported. Once the allegations are investigated and confirmed, the board will move to dismiss teachers who shouldn’t be teaching,” she said.
Lots of good reasons for termination
The teacher files Deasy recently revealed to the media illustrate there are a lot of educators who need to find another profession.
There was the case of the 60-year-old elementary teacher who required his students to give him full-body massages for 20 minutes each day while he “rested.”
There were examples of teachers who punished students by locking them in closets, barricading them in the corner of a classroom behind a wall of desks and chairs, dipping their hands in sanitizer to prevent thumb sucking, and forcing youngsters to scrub their desks with cleanser and their bare hands, the news group reports.
The sexual allegations were even worse.
A female high school teacher took a student with her to shop for sex toys. Another accidentally showed his class a pornographic movie that was stored on his computer.
The district’s transparency is encouraging, as is its increased efforts to pursue termination for abusive educators. Unfortunately, it took a seriously grotesque case to motivate officials to take action.
It wasn’t until teacher Mark Berndt was arrested for allegedly spoonfeeding his bodily fluids to 23 students at Miramonte Elementary that district officials got serious. Public pressure over the case, and other similarly atrocious situations, made it clear something must be done.
The fact that the district paid Berndt $40,000 to resign and didn’t tell parents or state officials about his alleged misconduct only added fuel to the fire.
District officials have since done the right thing by notifying parents within 72 hours of allegations, promptly forwarding complaints to the state, ending settlements for accused teachers, and pushing for broader reform on the state level.
Nearly 300 LA teachers are under investigation for misconduct, 100 have been fired, and 200 have resigned since the district cracked down in response to the Berndt case, according to the LA News Group.
Meanwhile, state lawmakers are considering Assembly Bill 375, which is essentially a watered-down version of legislation introduced last year to make it easier and faster for districts to remove educators accused of drug, violence or sex-related crimes with students.
The state’s teachers unions lobbied hard to effectively kill the more promising legislation in committee last year, and now they support AB 375. But officials like Deasy, LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and other education reformers believe it doesn’t go far enough to fix the lengthy and expensive dismissal and appeal process.
It seems LA school officials are finally stepping up to their responsibility to protect their students. The only question that remains is whether California lawmakers will help support their efforts.