Los Angeles Unified’s “Teacher Jail”
Brian Hayes is a veteran teacher in Southern California. His piece refers to how, after a child predator on staff was caught and removed from MIramonte Elementary School, hundreds of teachers who had no connection to the predator were also removed and kept in isolation. Many are still there or have lost their jobs. Read The Nation’s full investigative report, “Where Shame Is Policy: Inside LA’s ‘Teacher Jail.'”
How many of us would protest vehemently if we were suspended from our job by our CEO and placed in a “company jail” without due process? That’s exactly what has happened to 450 teachers in the Los Angeles Unified School District.
When Mark Berndt, a third grade teacher at Miramonte Elementary, was removed from his classroom in January, 2011 amid suspicions of lewd conduct, LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy removed all of the school’s 76 faculty along with administrators and staff. In addition to Berndt, who is now serving a 25-year sentence, second grade teacher Martin Springer was later charged with committing lewd acts. None of the other Miramonte teachers were found guilty of any wrongdoing. Instead they were placed in an empty high school close by, sitting in limbo in what is known as “teacher jail” for six months and collecting full salaries.
In the fall, forty-six of the Miramonte teachers and a new principal returned to their original positions, while 30 educators either transferred to other schools or retired.
At its April 16 meeting last year, the LA Board of Education approved a resolution from District 3 member Tamar Galatzan which provided support for the impending passage of California State Assembly Bill 375, legislation designed to speed up the investigation and prosecutorial process of teachers removed from their classrooms on suspicion of unprofessional and/or criminal activity. However, on October 10, Governor Jerry Brown vetoed the bill citing limits on depositions and a school district’s ability to amend charges, even when new evidence had come to light. While sharing the bills’ authors’ “desire to streamline the teacher discipline process,” Brown viewed it as “an imperfect solution.”
Consequently, LAUSD’s “teacher jail” has remained open for business despite Galatzan’s resolution. Today, approximately 450 teachers languish in various locations around the District, having been placed there without knowledge of the allegations against them; without the ability to confront the witnesses upon whose testimony those allegations were made; without the opportunity to consult with an attorney; without the strong, vocal support of their union, United Teachers of Los Angeles; and without a speedy resolution to their “cases.”
Brown’s veto doesn’t restrict LAUSD from improving its discipline procedures and assuring that teachers are dealt with fairly and professionally. There is no good reason why its “jail” should be administered with such blatant disregard for the rights of the educators who vegetate there. One wonders if the Superintendent or any of his underlings is familiar with the 6th amendment to the Constitution:
“In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.”
While LAUSD is not a local, state, or federal government, Deasy and his administration’s “teacher jail” violates more than just the spirit of the law. According to Alex Caputo-Pearl, newly elected leader of UTLA, a disproportionate number of the 450 teachers awaiting resolution of charges are over 40, black, and/or LGBT. An independent investigation into the precision of the percentages to which Caputo-Pearl refers should be undertaken to determine whether the District hierarchy has a hidden agenda facilitated by its “prison system.”
The same rights given to individual citizens in the Sixth Amendment should be applied to teachers, or to any employees, public or private. Or have we now progressed so far in our mistrust of teachers that we’re willing to suspend those rights in the interests of protecting our children? While no one condones the behavior of Mark Berndt – or any other teacher who conducts himself in similar illegal fashion – and wants to see him permanently separated from any child, we can’t sacrifice the proper justice due innocent teachers like Iris Stevenson to achieve that end.