Cortines: LAUSD responded ‘correctly’ in Esquith dismissal
Mike Szymanski | December 10, 2015
More salacious charges against celebrated teacher Rafe Esquith were released this week, and for the first time LAUSD superintendent Ramon Cortines commented publicly about the case.
At a forum last night, Cortines said he was surprised about the charges but stood behind the district for taking action, once its investigation was complete.
“For me, six months ago it would be hard to believe about a teacher, yet the evidence was there, and yet when we said there was something about it, the school district was highly criticized,” Cortines said. “And now it has been proven that the school district indeed did handle it correctly.”
The case led to Esquith’s dismissal and a $1 billion lawsuit against LAUSD filed by lawyers on his behalf, seeking to end the district’s “teacher jail” program.
One of Esquith’s lawyers, Ben Meiselas, denied all of the charges against Esquith and said the release of the documents continues “an obvious witch hunt” by the district.
“The release of discredited and baseless allegations with no validation in law or any court, and the piecemeal, out-of-context release of an email from a graduate from years ago reflects the depths of retaliation and retribution from LAUSD on its last throes of existence due to the class action brought against it by thousands of teachers who have been victims to LAUSD teacher witch-hunts,” Meiselas said.
He also said the district improperly hacked into the teacher’s personal email account.
“No student, or parent – to this day – has ever made any allegation against Mr. Esquith,” said Meiselas, who instead pointed to the many who have demonstrated on the teacher’s behalf. “In fact, LAUSD’s hit squad invaded the homes and colleges of these students demanding that they say something negative about Mr. Esquith and threatening to return if they did not. The students had nothing negative to say. Several former students have hired attorneys and will be bringing lawsuits against LAUSD for the harassment and abuse inflicted on them by LAUSD investigators at the direction of Superintendent Cortines.”
Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Police Department has the information provided by the district and is conducting its own investigation in the juvenile division.
Cortines said, “We are in a business that has humans; we are doing a better screening of all employees, teachers and classified.”
In the latest information revealed after a Los Angeles Times public records request, Esquith was fired on seven charges, including immoral and unprofessional conduct, dishonesty and failure to follow and obey school laws. A 32-page document by the district, dated Sept 30, 2015, outlines its version of the claims, several reflecting accounts from former students. Previously, all the documentation and discussion presented to the school board was held in closed sessions.
The details include when Esquith worked in the after school program of the Westside Jewish Community Center in the mid-1970s. In one instance it says Esquith accused a student of plagiarizing homework and in front of a group of students “slapped ‘M’ in the face, punched ‘M’ in the head and struck ‘M’ with the papers from the assignment.”
The charges also include details of a series of graphic instances in which Esquith was accused of highly improper sexual behavior involving students and teachers, some of it involving sexual contact.
Other charges involve student trips under the auspices of Esquith’s group, the Hobart Shakespeareans. Some trips had 30 students but only the Esquith and his wife as chaperones. The district said Esquith charged the students $100 a month, which was paid directly to the teacher with no receipts given. The teacher told them it was for expenses of the trips.