Laid off ‘Reed’ teachers accusing LAUSD of exploiting a loophole
Mike Szymanski | July 24, 2015
More than three dozen teachers at some of LA Unified’s lower-performing schools say their contracts are not being renewed because of a loophole in settlement of Reed vs. California, a lawsuit that tried to curb high teacher turnover in some of the city’s most challenging schools.
The settlement, made in April 2014, was aimed at addressing inequalities at 37 LA Unified schools identified as those with high teacher turnover and student drop-out rates as well as low statewide test scores.
The loophole, some of the laid off teachers say, is that instead of signing probationary contracts last year, the custom for new teachers joining the district, the Reed school teachers were asked by the district to sign “temporary” employment contracts, which expired on June 30.
Without recognizing the difference, they later learned that the contracts were not being renewed, and the district plans to replace the teachers with displaced teachers from non-Reed schools. Displaced teachers are those who are moved out of their positions by virtue of shrinking student population.
In response to the assertions by the Reed teachers, the district says it neither violated “the letter nor the spirit” of the settlement, pointing to a recent ruling by an Administrative Law Judge who upheld the district’s decision to lay off 34 temporary teachers assigned to Reed schools because of “budgetary constraints.”
“The statutory provisions enacted by the California legislature generally prohibit the layoff of any permanent or probationary employee from a subject matter in which the District will be retaining temporary employees,” the district said in a statement to LA School Report. “In compliance with State law, the District is releasing temporary employees. There is no mechanism in the Education Code to protect temporary teachers from layoff.”
UTLA, the LA teachers union, did not respond to a request seeking comment.
Arising out of a 2010 lawsuit that named for plaintiff Sharail Reed, the settlement involved the district, the ACLU and UTLA, and called for more assistant principals, counselors and special education support staff, greater professional development for teachers and administrators and bonuses to retain and recruit principals.
The move surprised some Reed school principals, pushing some to lobby the district to keep the teachers they were going to lose.
“I think if you ask any of the principals, they would say they would have preferred to keep the teachers who were on the temporary contracts,” said James Monroe High School principal Chris Rosas. His North Hills school lost two teachers this summer, and both were trained specifically to teach at “Reed schools.” The incoming replacements will have to be re-trained. “I would love to have kept my teachers,” he said.
The principal didn’t recall that the new teachers were hired with temporary contracts rather than probationary contracts and said he “thought they were safe.”
A principal at another Reed school who asked not to be identified said that school was also losing teachers who did not know they had signed “temporary” contracts.
Meanwhile, LAUSD will replace the “temporary” teachers from among the pool of 800 other displaced teachers, many of whom may not have experience with Reed schools.
“I guess I was an idiot when I signed the temporary contract, I didn’t think much of it at the time,” said Glenn Sacks, a social studies teacher whose contract was not renewed at Monroe High School. He is an experienced teacher, but new to LAUSD. He said he was surprised he got laid off, since his principal wanted to rehire him.
“It seems like this is a loophole that the district is using,” Sacks said. “If it doesn’t violate the letter of the law, it certainly violates the spirit of the Reed school agreement.”
Sacks attended special Reed school training that took place over three days during the Spring break. It was a time he also had a huge stack of essays to grade during the holiday.
“I enjoy teaching at the school, I felt like I was having an impact,” he said. “We were teaching children of gardeners, hotel maids and cleaning women from families on the bottom of the economic ladder. Some of the kids did not speak English when they came to the school.”
Sacks said he chose to be at Monroe High. “I felt a challenge to impact those at the lower end of the socio-economic scale,” he said.
*Adds district response.