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OpEdNews Op Eds    H4'ed 11/21/15

$1 Billion Lawsuit Against Los Angeles Unified School District

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This article was originally published on K-12 News Network's The Wire

Rafe Esquith "wants to shut down teacher jail. Mostly he wanted to teach. That's not going to happen anymore not at Hobart, not by L.A.Unified and he wants to never let this happen to any teacher again."

-Mark Geragos

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When it comes to Rafe Esquith, the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) is in a no-win situation. Eventually, the public will be presented with the evidence that the District has dug up against the famed teacher and the court of public opinion will decide if he should have been removed from the classroom. If the public agrees that the District's actions were correct, the LAUSD will need to explain why it took them 30 years to find that Esquith was unfit for the classroom. However, a finding that he was framed will expose another instance of bullying by the District and they will owe the current students of Hobart Elementary School an explanation for why they were deprived of the experience of being Hobart Shakespeareans. The 640,000 students of the LAUSD will also want to know why over $1 billion meant for their education is being jeopardized by this behavior.

The $1 billion plus lawsuit filed by Mark Geragos against the LAUSD on behalf of teachers affected by the District's Teacher Jail program did not have to happen. While the iPad boondoggle and MiSiS Crisis were more widely publicized, Deasy's housed teacher program was not a secret. The cases of Greg Schiller, Iris Stevenson and Stuart Lutz certainly provided public examples of how Teacher Jail had devolved into an organized witch hunt. The program should have been forced out of the District along with Deasy, but instead reached new lows under Cortines. As an example, the District has refused to provide any details about Esquith's case to public by claiming that it is "a confidential personnel matter." However, this confidentiality has not stopped them from leaking the fact that "the school board voted unanimously behind closed doors Tuesday to begin termination proceedings against Esquith." The Los Angeles Times is reporting that he is "accused of inappropriately touching minors," despite the fact that criminal charges have not been filed. The District's lack of transparency seems more geared toward controlling public opinion that safeguarding confidentiality.

It is hard to see how the LAUSD will defend itself against Geragos' claim that they are "a corrupt organization" that smears its victims through "scurrilous and scandalous leaks." In the case of David Binkle, they leaked to the public that he had been reassigned because he had inappropriately used marketing funds to travel, but then refused to release documents that could prove that his superiors had approved of these actions. While "District officials could not say how many teachers had been sent to 'teacher jail' in the past five years," Geragos said "that more than 1,000 teachers have sent emails saying they, too, had been subjected teacher jail." Similarly, the Office of the General Counsel is still struggling to determine how many Disruptive Parent Letters were issued during the last school year. These letters are the parent equivalent to Teacher Jail, essentially barring them from participating in their children's education or fulfilling their obligations on councils to which they have been appointed or elected.

The big winner in the legal proceedings may be Eli Broad, who may be able to save the $490 million he was planning to spend in his efforts "to reach 50 percent charter market share" in Los Angeles. While Geragos' stated goal may be "the complete shutdown of LAUSD," the alternative of a New Orlean's style, all-charter district without any accountability to the public would be even worse. At least with a publicly elected School Board the public has the hope of one day electing representatives who will dismantle the bully culture. Until then, maybe Geragos can set his sights on dismantling the LAUSD management instead of the entire public education system.


I am a former candidate for the District 3 seat on the LAUSD School Board, founder of Change The LAUSD and member of the Northridge East Neighborhood Council. Opinions are my own.

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Carl Petersen is a parent, an advocate for students with special education needs, an elected member of the Northridge East Neighborhood Council, a member of the LAUSD's CAC, and was a Green Party candidate in LAUSD's District 2 School Board race. During the campaign, the Network for Public Education (NPE) Action endorsed him, and Dr. Diane Ravitch called him a " (more...)

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