OPINION:  Housed educators: Why is the District scapegoating teachers?

By David Lyell
UTLA Secretary

imageLet’s say you’ve been teaching for years. You’re well regarded among parents, students, teachers, and administrators. No one complains about you because you produce results— students consistently engaged and learning.

You’ve heard of rubber rooms, teacher jail, and housed teachers. You’ve seen YouTube videos where students openly talk about how easy it is to get a teacher fired. Students you respect have shared with you that they know there won’t be any consequences for them if they make false allegations against a teacher.

One day you’re informed that you are no longer to report to school. Why? You are told that you will later be provided the reason. But not right now. You’ve always been someone who follows the rules, and you know this mixup will be resolved in a few days. You report to an off-campus location, where other “housed” teachers are.

You learn about the three-step dismissal process. First you will have a Skelly hearing, a process where, by law, a supposedly neutral party informs you of the charges and makes a recommendation to the School Board. Yet you are told that these hearings are perfunctory—the Skelly officer is the exact opposite of neutral and with rare exception always recommends dismissal. After that, your case will be referred to the School Board. You won’t even be afforded the mere courtesy of addressing the board, even for two minutes, despite your years of service to the District’s students, and the Board will, with near certainty, vote to fire you. At that point you will be placed on unpaid leave, and your case will be referred to the Commission on Professional Competence, where a supposedly neutral three-person panel will decide whether you should be reinstated. Even if the CPC votes to reinstate, LAUSD can appeal, and either way, at this point it is unlikely you will ever return to the classroom. If the CPC upholds the decision, your case will be referred to the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing, which will move to revoke your credential.

Whenever UTLA raises concerns about housed teachers, individually or collectively, our arguments, no matter how sound, are often met with silence. As but one small example, we’ve told the District we need to be notified when a teacher is housed. The District’s response is that the teacher may not want UTLA to be involved, and were District officials to provide notification, they would be violating the teacher’s confidentiality. The District only recently provided a list of the number of housed teachers per area.

District leadership has staff who are paid for with private foundation grants. Most of the children of these foundation leaders attend the very best private schools, affording every possible opportunity money and privilege can buy: small class sizes; plenty of nurses, counselors, librarians, psychiatric social workers, pupil service and attendance counselors, and other health and human services professionals; strong early childhood, arts and adult education programs; healthy food; clean, safe, fully staffed campuses; and the fostering of an environment where discipline issues are addressed in a serious manner and where teachers are respected and celebrated.

Yet, oddly, the focus of these foundation leaders isn’t on working to provide even a fraction of these same rich services to public school students. Their agenda instead is “teacher effectiveness,” which is merely code for efforts to eliminate seniority and due process rights.

Propelled by this private foundation money, District leadership and several School Board members have lobbied state and national legislators to gut seniority laws and have been trying to overwhelm UTLA with cases to defend.

You finally find out the allegations against you—the charges are vague at best, and the criminal investigation never even got started because there wasn’t even a hint of any substantiated evidence. Yet the District is refusing to allow you to return to the classroom.

You could sue for wrongful termination or age discrimination, but you know the District would drag the case on for years, and the legal costs alone would surely bankrupt you, never mind the effect a prolonged lawsuit would have on your health and that of your family.

You turn on the TV and see LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy state, “When an individual is accused of an egregious act like molesting a child or being arrested for prostitution, then they are housed while there’s an investigation.”

You protest aloud that when an individual is accused of an egregious act, that individual is not housed—that individual is arrested, jailed, charged, and criminally prosecuted. That’s why we have a criminal justice system, to responsibly address how to respond to outrageous acts against humanity, which is as it should be. You resent being lumped into such a category, and in such an incredibly misleading manner.

AB 1530 (Alex Padilla (D) Pacoima) was a bill introduced last year that sought to place the entire dismissal process in the hands of school boards. Even the L.A. Times—which usually doesn’t agree with UTLA on anything—opposed it, writing that the bill “goes too far.” (Padilla has now reintroduced the bill as SB 10.) Last November, after Assembly member Betsy Butler didn’t support the bill, she was viciously attacked in election mailers and even attacked in a very unbalanced “report” on national TV by CNN’s Anderson Cooper. In the March 6 school board election, Monica Garcia’s own campaign (her actual campaign and not an independent expenditure) sent out a mailer with the headline, “Her opponents stand up for predators.” Sadly, in both campaigns, the attacks worked: Betsy Butler was not reelected, and Garcia won reelection.

UTLA is fighting back on several fronts. We’ve set up a task force and are developing a toolkit so housed teachers will have a sense of what to do and what not to do when targeted by District leadership. We’re developing our own ever-changing list of housed teachers, so we can better communicate with and advocate for their rights (that list has been compiled without the help of LAUSD leadership). We’re also actively consulting with counsel to formulate a legal strategy to help stem the bloodletting of experienced, veteran, competent teachers who are, each and every day, continuing to have their livelihoods destroyed.

Are students well served when the witch hunt against teachers is perpetuated at the direct expense of real-life advocacy efforts to increase funding, lower class size, and provide even a tenth of a fraction of the same opportunities for public school students that the children of billionaires enjoy?

Teachers welcome responsibility, and that duty extends not just to teachers but to parents, students, and administrators as well. Why is it that what’s good enough for the children of billionaires isn’t good enough for all students?

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