EDUCATION POLITICS-In looking at LAUSD's latest defamatory attack on nationally acclaimed teacher Rafe Esquith, (photo) one can only surmise that those running the District are starting to run scared. Esquith's billion dollar lawsuit brought by lawyer Mark Geragos has too great a probability of bankrupting the District if it’s allowed to be tried in the forum of a neutral court.
The LAUSD smear machine (aka "LAUSD investigative team") has been given their marching orders: do not find the truth, but rather, get the goods on Esquith --even if they have to fabricate or distort the facts.
After years of war against teachers and other certificated and classified employees (whose only crime was to question district policy or make too much money,) LAUSD has an amoral group of administrators and outside contractors in place, seeking to supplement their income or position, even if they have to lie, fabricate, or distort evidence to do so.
By examining the recent indictment of Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke for first degree murder of Laquan McDonald, we are reminded of how deceptive public entity cultures like this work.
After a 13-month cover up, we saw what happens when an organization is allowed to investigate itself. In this case, it came to a pre-ordained conclusion of innocence because that was the only explanation acceptable to those whose loyalty to the organization took precedence over commitment to truth and the rule of law.
This same self-dealing culture has existed for generations at the LAUSD, to the preclusion of good pragmatic public education. No administrator could ever have gotten to a position of power unless he or she showed a willingness to fabricate lies and subordinate truth to support LAUSD’s party line.
LAUSD has put out for public consumption the fact that "the district's investigative team, which includes former LA Police Department detectives, [has] launched an investigation." They do not emphasize the "former" status of these LA Police Department detectives, who are either retired from LAPD or moonlighting for LAUSD as a second job to supplement their income. LAUSD seeks to cultivate the appearance that this is an LA Police investigation, when nothing could be further from the truth.
The corporate-owned press continues to selectively report only the "facts" as LAUSD presents them, instead of asking questions like…has any LAUSD investigator ever found a teacher they were investigating innocent? Or, how many of these "LA Police Department detectives" have found evidence of LAUSD administrative wrongdoing among personnel who are still working for the District?
A more fundamental question is, why are local, state, and federal agencies ceding control of their investigatory function to LAUSD -- which is a self-interested party to Esquith’s $1 billion civil lawsuit alleging criminal conspiracy and other charges against the LAUSD administration?
The hallmark of all LAUSD investigations is that they investigate themselves, deviating from any notion of legal objectivity. And what they do investigate never seems to go anywhere, like in the case of the iPad scandal under former Superintendent John Deasy or the sexual harassment investigation against current and habitually retiring Superintendent Ramon Cortines.
In my own case, when I filed a whistleblower complaint against my principal Janet Seary and her superior, Jan Davis, for graduating students with low elementary school math and reading ability, the LAUSD's Office of Inspector General allowed Seary and Davis to investigate themselves. Not surprisingly, they found they had done nothing wrong. The fact they were given this case, in which they had a clear conflict of interest, was never addressed by the District or any other authority. Now, the Esquith class action lawsuit is finally bringing these actions into the light.
But my favorite illustration of LAUSD's one-sided railroading of teachers, along with anyone else questioning LAUSD's often illegal behavior, was given by my then Vice Principal Rene Martinez. Asked under oath why he included in my evidence file only the ten negative letters from my students (that were obtained through a rather intimidating process) and none of the five positive letters, he said, "They did not go to the charges against you," showing how one-sided the LAUSD's investigatory process remains.
It is very telling to look at the LAUSD’s modus operandus as it goes after "enemies": neither Mr. Martinez nor Mr. Johnson from the LAUSD Office of Inspector General had any idea what “exculpatory evidence” meant. True to LAUSD culture, Mr. Martinez has been made principal of his own school and he should continue to do well as long as he remains unfettered by the truth – or as long as Esquith is not successful in finally bringing accountability to LAUSD.
Let’s consider the recently released incriminating evidence alleging that Mr. Esquith engaged in improper sexual activity with his students. Before getting into the purposefully prurient nature of these charges, it is worth asking:
- Why were all charges against Esquith not brought immediately?
- Is it a mere coincidence that the more Esquith stood up for himself against LAUSD, the more egregious the heretofore unmentioned subsequent charges were?
- What was the relationship between Mr. Esquith and the student bringing the charges? Were they good students or bad with a score to settle?
- Why bring these "new" charges against Esquith now, instead of allowing the class action trial process of discovery and testimony under oath to determine in a neutral forum who is telling the truth?
- Under what circumstances was the testimony of prior students against Esquith made? Were these circumstance neutral, as required by the standards set up in the McMartin Preschool case, where falsely accused teachers and administrators were vilified by false charges for close to 10 years before it was revealed that the students were manipulated into making their testimony?
- How is it that Esquith’s alleged improper sexual behavior going back to the 1970s is only now seeing the light of day, now that LAUSD is faced with a billion dollar class action suit?
Any teacher can tell you is that there are several things that might allow Mr. Esquith's comments to be viewed as acceptable, given the subjective reality that all teachers face. First, students transitioning from childhood into young adulthood like to flirt. It is important and completely normal for students to flirt with their teachers and others, still knowing that they are safe. I cannot think of any conscientious teacher I know who has not been flirted with or who would ever take advantage of a young person's vulnerability.
A second issue that every teacher I know encounters with both male and female students is that many students have a poor self-image, making them feel incapable of even trying to do the assigned work. In trying to help a student overcome a poor self-image, it is entirely possible that an excellent and empathetic teacher like Esquith might tell a 14-year old student that she was, "beautiful, elegant, dazzling, sexy, and gorgeous," especially if this could help her accomplish something she believed she couldn’t do. In this context, what Esquith is alleged to have said is more than justified.
For 30 years, Rafe Esquith taught in a lower socio-economic neighborhood, even though he could have done better financially, had he taken one of many offers to go elsewhere. But he chose not to. Rather, he chose to set up a foundation ensuring that students of modest financial means could have access to education programs. He wanted to help them go on with their education after graduation, encouraging them to work hard and master the rigorous traditional public education he was trying to give them.
But in quoting an email out of context, where Esquith refers to himself as "your favorite ATM," the district is seeking to imply some false negative motive on the part of Esquith, when sainthood is a more reasonable conclusion.
There is an insane irony to the fact that the Los Angeles Unified School District, which should be dedicated to the highest traditions of open intellectual pursuit, remains a closed and insular bastion of cult-like behavior -- a place where those who question it are targeted for removal and destruction. As constituted, LAUSD’s leadership only seems concerned with mindlessly defending its failed public education policy along with its obscenely extravagant financial privilege against anyone like Rafe Esquith who is foolish enough to intelligently question them.
(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 [email protected]) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.
Vol 13 Issue 101
Pub: Dec 15, 2015