May 29 2014
Vicki E. Alger
Los Angeles Unified teachers suspected of misconduct and under investigation will no longer report to off-campus offices, or "rubber rooms," for busy-work duty. Instead they will stay at home—and many will continue to get paid. Welcome to Hotel California 2.0.
According to union leaders it’s just mean to send teachers to what they call “teacher jails,” as the Los Angeles Times reports:
The change, ordered by L.A. Unified Supt. John Deasy, will affect about 250 instructors who face allegations such as breaking district rules, mishandling money or abusing students [Empahsis added]. ...
The standard practice had been for suspended teachers to report to a non-campus office during the workday — typically doing very little, while under some form of supervision. Some have remained ‘housed,’ as the district terms it, for several years.
Although the teachers continue to be paid, many said they consider the mandatory reporting obligations humiliating. Housed teachers cannot do work outside of their regular duties, such as help the central office with filing. They also cannot contact substitutes to provide lesson plans for their students while they are away.
The number of housed instructors more than doubled — at times exceeding 400 — in the wake of the 2012 arrest of Miramonte Elementary teacher Mark Berndt. He pleaded no contest in November to 23 counts of lewd conduct and received a 25-year prison sentence.
Since Berndt's arrest, officials have been quick to remove any teacher who was under a cloud, saying student safety is paramount.
To be sure, any accused teacher deserves due process. But in the case of LAUSD the process is badly broken for teachers and students. Not all misconduct is alike, and abuse allegations should be handled as swiftly and professionally as possible to keep guilty teachers away from students and clear the names of innocent ones so they can get their lives and livelihoods back.
But keeping students safe doesn’t require trampling over teachers’ basic civil rights, including the right of innocence until proven guilty. However, there are obvious commonsense precautions taken with those who choose to enter certain professions involving public safety. Police officers and doctors, not just teachers, are routinely placed on administrative leave away from the public and patients until they can be cleared. To be fair and just, these processes must be clearly spelled out and completed in a timely manner. But in LAUSD, bureaucratic bumbling appears to have reigned supreme for years.
We’ll recall that a 2012 audit revealed LAUSD investigations typically didn’t start until months after abuse allegations were made. Even after they did, those investigations took years and cost taxpayers millions of dollars just to house teachers accused of misconduct with their students in off-campus offices, referred to as “rubber rooms.”
But union leaders aren’t innocent, either.
Several state and local teachers unions, including the California Teachers Association and United Teachers Los Angeles, helped torpedo a measure proposed two years ago that would have dramatically streamlined the process for removing actual predators from children’s classrooms.
Children shouldn't have to wait for school and teachers union officials to keep them safe. That’s why any parent who believes their child isn’t safe should have access to Safety Opportunity (SOS) scholarships so they could transfer immediately to another school—district, charter, private, online, or home school.
No child should be trapped in an unsafe situation. And schools should stop operating as though parents can check in their children, but they can never leave.