United Teachers Los Angeles members are planning a Monday afternoon protest against the conditions under which the L.A. Unified School District handles teachers who are facing allegations of misconduct.
The union is scheduled to hold afternoon "vigils" outside L.A. Unified offices where many of the teachers are "housed" until their cases are adjudicated -- either by law enforcement authorities or by the district itself.
The union says that teachers are kept in these offices for far longer than necessary and that, in some cases, they are unjustly fired even after an allegation is proved untrue. The union is calling on the district to end the practice of keeping teachers in these offices; inform instructors of allegations against them within 10 days of removal from the classroom; and conduct an independent review of all dismissals by the Los Angeles Board of Education since 2012.
Supt. John Deasy declined to comment specifically on the demonstrations, saying only that the district prioritizes the security of students, teachers and others at schools above all else.
“Our responsibility is the safety of the students and the other adults in the system,” he said in an interview.
The superintendent said the majority of incidents involving teachers and others involves activity that occurred outside the schools. And, he said, there have been improvements made in the investigations process since last year.
Allegations of sexual misconduct at Miramonte Elementary School in early 2012 sparked a surge of investigations of teachers. More than 300 instructors were removed from schools and assigned to these district offices or to their homes. Most of those continue to be paid.
That number has since dropped to about 260, according to L.A. Unified.
District policy requires that employees are told why they have been pulled from the job if it does not compromise law enforcement investigations and that they are advised quickly about the expected length of the inquiry.
David Holmquist, L.A. Unified’s general counsel, said the district shares the union’s interest in a swift resolution, but that investigations by the district into misconduct are often delayed to comply with requests by law enforcement.
The district is hiring a team of professional investigators to assist principals with investigations. The added manpower should speed the process, Holmquist said
Some teachers, however, are not satisfied that district policy is followed or goes far enough to promote fairness.
Critics also accuse Deasy and other district officials of employing a zero-tolerance approach to misconduct that presumes guilt and moves inevitably toward dismissal for even minor infractions.
In a statement, UTLA said, "investigations drag on indefinitely and when a teacher is exonerated, often he or she is still not allowed back into the classroom. Educators are denied meaningful due process — a constitutional right.”
Holmquist said the district does not presume guilt of its teachers, but rather insists on being thorough in its investigations.
“When it comes time to balance the rights of adults and the safety of students, we're always going to choose the students,” he said. “We have to make student safety the most important thing.”
Despite the failure of earlier efforts, district officials continue to seek changes to state law that would allow for speedier dismissals.