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Renowned Teacher Sues District for $1 Billion in Class Action Suit Over 'Teacher Jails' for Older Teachers

Renowned Teacher Sues District for $1 Billion in Class Action Suit Over 'Teacher Jails' for Older Teachers

Well-known and popular teacher Rafe Esquith has filed a lawsuit against Los Angeles Unified School District seeking $1 billion in damages for himself and over 2,000 teachers in the district—making it the largest class action lawsuit filed by teachers in public education's history.

The suit is just more bad news for the controversy-laden LAUSD, which Esquith is suing because he says it is falsely ousting older teachers in order to save money on retirement benefits, calling the process a "witch hunt."

"It comes on the heels of reports that the L.A. school board voted unanimously and behind closed doors to fire Esquith for misconduct. Earlier this year, Esquith was pulled from his classroom and placed under investigation," said CNN.

Esquith is using his own treatment as an example of what he says frequently happens to older teachers in the district—being abruptly removed from the classroom and being forced to wait out an investigation that typically leads to firing. This process of waiting around is being referred to by teachers and their union as "teacher jail," CNN said.

Esquith is one of the more well-known teachers working in LAUSD because he has received many awards and distinctions for his work as a fifth-grade teacher at the Hobart Boulevard Elementary School, where he spent 30 years working with mostly low-income and first-generation immigrant students.

One of his projects, a theater-group called the Hobart Shakespeareans which he led, was featured in a PBS documentary and even was the subject of the annual TED Conference.

So what has Esquith been accused of to put his job on the line? The school district says buying food for students without parental permission, talking about nudity in class and failing to obtain proper permission slips for field trips are all part of the reason.

They also accuse Esquith for mishandling money from the Hobart Shakespearans' nonprofit organization and keeping sexual material on school computers—two more serious accusations that Esquith vehemently denies.

"Esquith says that while he is not perfect, he is innocent of sexual or financial wrongdoing. He says he personally paid for The Hobart Shakespeareans' productions and travel costs, including college visits and an annual trip to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival," CNN said.

Instead, Esquith says he has faced the same treatment that many other older teachers have experienced as they head to "teacher jail" while the district scrambles to save money.

Upon being investigated, Esquith said that all matters were handled with an accusatory tone and that investigators used loaded questions and practices to fit their narrative.

Esquith alleges that his students, who were pulled from his class, were visited by investigators and asked questions that sought out a specific kind of answer.

"According to the suit, students were asked questions like: 'What creepy things did teacher X do?' or 'Has teacher Y ever looked at you funny?" Investigators also asked if their teacher 'made them feel uncomfortable' or to explain why a certain teacher might be 'racist,'" CNN said.

"Half a dozen former students who spoke with CNN said they never experienced anything inappropriate with their teacher. Some said they consider him a mentor and a member of the family."

This isn't the first time LAUSD has been the subject of a billion dollar scandal. LAUSD recently came under fire after a proposed billion dollar one-to-one iPad initiative failed to launch after issues with roll-outs, problems with software and a suspicion that contracts were made under corrupt motives.

Article by Nicole Gorman, Education World Contributor

10/16/2015

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