Two in LA Unified ‘teacher jail’ plead their cases to school board
Mike Szymanski | September 11, 2015
Two teachers put in “teacher jail”— but have had no charges filed against them — pleaded their cases to the LA Unified school board last week, asking to be allowed back into the classroom. In both cases, the teachers’ contracts won’t be renewed.
Jay Stern and Blake Clement spoke directly to Superintendent Ramon Cortines in their request for help. Since Cortines took over a year ago from former Superintendent John Deasy, the resolution of teacher jail cases has accelerated, and officials said that 174 remained in the teacher housing situation when school started. The school board could overturn staff recommendations, which is why the teachers made their pleas directly to the board.
But as these two cases remain unresolved, they symbolize what “jailed” teachers for years have described as an unfair and often capricious system that removes them from classrooms without immediate explanation and on accusations, revealed later, that ultimately prove frivolous. The district typically declines to comment about specific cases, couching them as “personnel” matters.
“I want you to hear this Mr. Cortines, by its persecution of me, the LAUSD staff again demonstrates its lust for witch hunts,” said Stern, who was a chemistry teacher at Panorama High School, in his comments at the board meeting. “Two female students in my chemistry class claimed that I touched them inappropriately and one said that I ‘grabbed her butt’ and the other that I pulled her bra strap simultaneously, with a gas igniter in my hand, working with other students during an experiment.”
Stern told the board that the Los Angeles Police Department, city attorney’s office, California Commission on Teacher Credentialing all investigated and closed their cases, and he passed a polygraph test.
After the board meeting, Stern told LA School Report that he is on the list to be terminated in October even though the district “has no case” and that one of the charges against him was that he had “flirty eyes.” Another concern was his use of hand puppets of a unicorn and a squirrel that has an acorn sewn to its paw.
“The unicorn is called Horny, and the squirrel is called Nutty, and [district investigators] asked me if that was sexually suggestive,” Stern said. He said he believes that one of his accusers was failing his class and trying to get her grade up to a C.
Clement was taken out of his sixth grade English history class at San Fernando Middle School in January 2013 because of inappropriate child contact. Clement has three children of his own and said it was months before he even heard specific charges. Despite no charges by police officials, or the school, Clement’s last day was the day of the board meeting.
“I want to warn the 30,000 teachers at LAUSD that this can happen to them,” Clement said. “They need to get rid of these protocols and procedures that allow children to make false charges against teachers.”
Neither the superintendent nor any of the school board members offered any comment after the teachers made their individual cases. Both teachers are fighting their dismissals.
Clement said, “It is extremely stressful to have a target on you and have to prove your innocence. I just want my job back and go back to teaching.”
And Stern added, “I want the girls and the district to give me a full apology about these outright falsehoods and do the right thing and return me back to the classroom. That would be a good beginning.”