Schools have always been a safe haven, where parents can drop their children off and trust they are in a protected environment. A teacher is the last person in the world we would think would harm them. But like all parents, I am outraged upon learning of the charges made against two veteran teachers at Los Angeles’ Miramonte Elementary School, who are accused of committing outrageous sexual offenses against students in their classroom.
While Los Angeles Unified has finally removed these teachers from their classrooms, we have learned that they should have been removed MUCH earlier given that alleged misconduct transpired years before. According to news reports and district officials, cumbersome state laws and union contracts may have tied the hands of the district from getting these dangerous teachers out of the classroom sooner.
That is why Los Angeles Mayor Villaraigosa and L.A. Unified recently asked Governor Brown and the Legislature to make it easier for schools to remove teachers suspected of serious misconduct. They have proposed ideas to streamline the current teacher removal process. My Republican colleagues and I agree with the Mayor and L.A. Unified on the need for reform, and have introduced many of their ideas as legislation.
Currently, it is extremely difficult for districts to fire a teacher, even in cases of serious misconduct. The process of teacher removal can involve years of investigation, union grievances, administrative appeals, court challenges and re-hearings. It is no surprise that the average dismissal proceeding can cost districts $300,000 per case and that most administrators do not even try to fire teachers suspected of wrongdoing. This reality has led to districts paying accused teachers to do nothing while their cases were being heard. According to a 2009 news report, 160 reassigned L.A. Unified teachers earned $10 million a year to stay away from their classrooms while awaiting judgment. Even if a teacher is found guilty, full retirement benefits are still given to the offender.
To end this nonsense, we seek to end unnecessary delays in the dismissal process that can hold up cases for years. For example, as of now suspension or dismissal notices of teachers cannot be initiated between May 15th and September 15th, the summer months of the school year. That makes no sense as justice should never take holidays.
Another reform we are championing is to allow evidence of past accusations of wrongdoing to be held in files longer than the current four year date by which evidence must be removed. Several complaints were filed against one of the accused Miramonte teachers over the years, but none resulted in action and was removed from the teacher’s file after four years as stipulated by union contract provisions. Removing this provision would help establish a paper trail to better protect students in the future.
Finally, we also want to strip pension and retiree benefits from teachers who are convicted of a felony related to their job.
It is clear that the existing system needs change. Republicans and Democrats recognize that the reputations of truly innocent teachers need protecting, but it should not take heaven and earth to purge a teacher accused of serious offenses. I will work with my colleagues over the coming weeks to ensure the safety of all students kindergarten through 12th grade.