State senator calls for audit of LAUSD’s ‘teacher jail’
Craig Clough | January 14, 2016
The state Joint Legislative Audit Committee yesterday approved an request by Senator Tony Mendoza (D-Artesia) to examine LA Unified’s “teacher jail,” a controversial process the district uses when investigating allegations of wrongdoing by employees.
“The goal of this audit is to examine the basis, extent, and impact ‘Teacher Jail’ has on student learning as well as to determine the cost, outcomes, and effectiveness of this practice,” Mendoza said in a statement. “Student safety should always be our top priority when evaluating any school employee disciplinary system. We must tread lightly when removing teachers for minor, non-safety related allegations because disrupting a student’s classroom environment can negatively impact their learning.”
“Teacher jail” is a disciplinary procedure not just used against teachers but nearly all district employees who have been accused of wrongdoing, illegal activity or violating district policy. Before 2014, the district often sent the accused to an administrative building while their case was investigated, which could often take months. The employee remained on the payroll but was given few if any tasks while being forced to sit in the administrative buildings for hours a day.
More recently, employees are sent home to wait out the investigation.
“Teacher jail” has been a point of contention between the LA teachers union, UTLA, and district leaders, with union leaders often saying the process is overused and unfair. In April of 2013, the number of employees in “teacher jail” reached a peak, with 322 under investigation, according to numbers provided by the district to LA School Report in July.
A class-action lawsuit was recently filed on behalf of thousands of LAUSD teachers alleging the system is unfair. The suit was filed in state superior court by lawyers for Rafe Esquith, a well-known teacher who was dismissed in April after a “teacher jail” investigation led to public accusations of sexually inappropriate conduct and financial questions regarding a charity foundation he operated.
It is unclear what the implications could be as a result of the audit, and Mendoza did not respond to a request to comment.
In the audit request, he wrote: “As this practice is known to be most publicly prevalent at LAUSD, I believe that the audit should focus on that district. However, it is important that the audit should also place the results in a wider context of disciplinary measures for employees at other school districts so that the appropriateness, effectiveness and cost-benefit ratio can be better determined.”