LAUSD Fired Famed Teacher Rafe Esquith … the Reason Will Surprise You

EDUCATION POLITICS-Why did the Los Angeles School Board vote unanimously to fire famed teacher Rafe Esquith (photo)? The answer might surprise you, as it is codified in law. 

According to the Brown Act section 54956.9 the Board is compelled to side with the administration and district legal team if there is even potential "exposure" to litigation. In this case, there are claims of wrongful termination, age discrimination, defamation, and other violations of LAUSD teachers’ civil rights – all actions that the LAUSD administration continues to engage in.

Simply stated, the Board receives improper and/or false information from the LAUSD administration and their expensive outside attorneys. Their only desire is to cover up the fact that they are guilty of civil and criminal violations of law against the District and its employees. The LA School Board has no mechanism for garnering correct information or delving into the wrong-doing of the LAUSD administration.

This relegates the LA Board of Education to the sole function of rubber stamping all LAUSD administrative actions, especially when the administration asserts the district might be subject to litigation.

Whether or not any potential litigation is justified or whether LAUSD has functioned in a self-serving and often illegal manner, remains out of the Board’s purview, hidden behind closed doors away from public scrutiny.

One example of how the captive LA School Board functions without discretion can be seen by examining the role of the LAUSD Office of Inspector General's Office (OIG). Rather than being an independent body to monitor the administration for improper actions, reporting directly to the Board as the National Standards of Inspectors General requires, the OIG works under the LAUSD Superintendent. It functions like a “secret police” charged with building cases against their "enemies" – teachers like teacher Rafe Esquith and the thousands of other top-of-the-salary scale teachers whose removal benefits LAUSD's self-dealing administration…both financially and by allowing improper actions to continue unchallenged.

LAUSD saves approximately $60,000 in the first year after firing a top-of-the-salary scale teacher. This is never mentioned as a motive for charging and discharging thousands of teachers, a disproportionate and statistically impossible number of whom are over 40, at the top-of-the-salary scale and/or about to vest in expensive lifetime health benefits.

What has not occurred to these corrupt administrators or their outside expensive attorneys (whose only concern seems to be how many hours they can bill) is that first and foremost Attorney Mark Geragos is a criminal attorney. He has an intimate understanding of the Penal Code – that it supersedes both the Education Code and the Brown Act when it comes to judging the fiduciary duty the administration has to the District and to the certificated and classified employees they continue to target in violation of civil and criminal law.

Rafe Esquith, Mark Geragos, and the thousands of LAUSD employees who have been criminally mistreated by the LAUSD administration and their lawyers, know that these folks have made no attempt to hide their illegal behavior. Holding them accountable should be a straight forward process held in a neutral legal forum where they can no longer call the shots. One can only hope that such a forum still exists in corporate America. 

Here are some probative questions LAUSD administrators might have trouble answering under oath and penalty of perjury: 

Where are the police reports that substantiate crimes and "egregious misconduct?” 

In the vast majority of cases, and specifically Rafe Esquith's case, the teacher was cleared of all wrongdoing in the past. If there was any basis for firing Esquith, why wasn't it done in 2006 when some of the charges were initially made and found to be completely without merit? Why have additional charges against Esquith and others only been added in response to Esquith's or others refusal to roll over and resign, the way most LAUSD teachers have been forced to do? Is there a clearly provable pattern of LAUSD improper actions against teachers? 

Are the standards used by LAUSD to investigate allegations of "egregious misconduct" consistent with the Penal Code standards that the Education Code calls for? 

Bringing students into the principal's office and interrogating them until they are coerced into bearing false witness against their teachers seems questionable. Firing a teacher without any verified charges made under penalty of perjury or without intimidation are a sine qua non to anything that even remotely resembles a legally permissible action. 

Since many of the codified categories mandated by the Education Code and Penal Code DO NOT apply to the teachers who have been placed in “teacher jail,” under what legal authority are teachers put into teacher jail and subsequently terminated without any finding of guilt?

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Superintendents Deasy and Cortines have often defended the use of teacher jail as justified to protect innocent children. But they have never explained why keeping them home until an independent investigation takes place is not adequate, even though they finally do this with most teachers. Yes, intimidation and forcing a teacher to retire seems to be the clear motive. Both Deasy and Cortines cite student safety to justify never allowing a once-targeted teacher back in the classroom, even if they have been cleared of any illegal behavior. 

The sole economic motive for the existence of teacher jail is age (which results in age discrimination.) Ninety-three percent of teachers placed in teacher jail are over the age of 40. See Biddle Disparate Treatment and Disparate Impact.  This statistic, when compared to the overall teaching population of LAUSD, shows a clear Disparate Treatment and intentional discriminatory policy toward veteran teachers. This egregious conduct by LAUSD no doubt will be called into account in the Esquith class action suit brought by Geragos & Geragos.

In closing, one cannot help remarking about the deafening silence coming from United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) when it comes to the Esquith case and the thousands of others who have joined what might be the largest ever class action suit dealing with public education.

Could LAUSD's morally challenged administrators have illegally gone after and destroyed the careers and lives of so many teachers without the complicity of UTLA? The union clearly had the power to confront this under the LAUSD-UTLA Collective Bargaining Agreement, but have chosen to do nothing. One can only hope that this will earn them a place as named defendants in the lawsuit.

(Leonard Isenberg is a Los Angeles observer and a contributor to CityWatch. He’s a second generation teacher at LAUSD and blogs at perdaily.com. Leonard can be reached at Lenny@perdaily.com) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.




Vol 13 Issue 85

Pub: Oct 20, 2015