JUST IN: Geragos plans class action against LAUSD over teacher jails
Mike Szymanski | July 13, 2015
High-profile attorney Mark Geragos has notified LAUSD that he intends to file a class action lawsuit about the so-called “teacher jails” that could involve hundreds–and potentially thousands–of past and present teachers.
The required notice for the class action lawsuit was stamped and received by the school board on June 22, and 45 days from that date the suit will be filed, according to Ben Meiselas, an associate of Geragos & Geragos who is representing noted educator Rafe Esquith, who was taken from his classroom earlier this year and placed in teacher jail, pending an investigation on a variety of issues.
The letter, obtained by the LA School Report, deals mostly with the Esquith case, but it also gives notice of a class action complaint “on behalf of all teachers, during the applicable statue of limitations period, who have been denied procedural and substantive due process by LAUSD.”
The notice says: “It is anticipated the composition of the relevant class will be comprised of at least several thousand current and former LAUSD teachers who have similarly been deprived of due process, and have endured arbitrary process, undefined investigations, indefinite stays in teacher jail, and capricious classroom removals.”
The issue is an especially volatile one with LA Unified, which has been severely criticized over the years by the teachers union, UTLA, for what union officials say is a capricious and unfair discipline system. Tensions were especially acute during John Deasy‘s years as superintendent, making the elimination of teacher jail a prime rallying cry of Alex Caputo-Pearl‘s run for the union presidency last year and the union’s subsequent campaign for a new labor agreement with the district.
Under Ramon Cortines, who took over when Deasy resigned last year, both sides say progress has been made in expediting cases involving teachers in jail, reducing the number of teachers still kept out of their classrooms. It remains unclear what impact, if any, a class action lawsuit might have on the improving approach to resolving cases.
Since representing Esquith, Meiselas said the firm has collected 300 to 400 names of teachers reporting trouble with the LAUSD disciplinary procedure. In fact, at the same time he was discussing the case today with LA School Report, Meiselas said he received emails from teachers, asking for help.
“This one says, ‘I am a former teacher who was held for nine months in the teacher jail,’” he said, reading one.
Another email detailed the teacher’s detainment and said, “I’m one of the teachers who can address the adversarial and spiteful culture of the administration.”
Another that he read said: “I’ve been in teacher’s jail for 10 months. Please help me!”
Meiselas said he is amazed at how many teachers have contacted him about the unfairness of the teacher jail, which requires that teachers be taken out of a classroom immediately and forced to sit idly in a downtown office as an investigation proceeds.
“Sometimes the teachers don’t even know what they are charged with, and the process could take months or even years,” Meiselas said.
His defense of the popular and highly-respected fifth grade teacher Esquith led to many stories of other teachers in similar situations.
“It’s tragic, these are intelligent vibrant teachers with masters and doctorates who are under a McCarthy-like system,” Meiselas said. “They have not been provided notice of allegations and it has taken an unfair McCarthy-like tilt to any American jurisprudence.”
Meiselas said his office has noticed a pattern of allegations against teachers who are older than 50 and are usually in higher-end pay scales.
“We want to compel a systematic change at the school board and not have a system that is anti-teacher,” Meiselas said.
Geragos, who is normally a criminal defense attorney, will be taking up the lead in the class action case against LAUSD, Meiselas said.
The school district has another two weeks or so to respond, after which Meiselas said his office will file the class action lawsuit.
Esquith, a best selling author who has also received national awards and media attention for his work at Hobart Avenue Elementary School, was removed from the classroom in April in response to a complaint that he made a joke about nudity while referencing Mark Twain. The district’s investigation of his background revealed he has been accused of physically and sexually abusing a child four decades ago when he was a teenager working at a summer camp.