The Los Angeles Unified School District board Tuesday approved resolutions calling on the state to adopt changes that would make it faster and cheaper to fire teachers and requiring the superintendent to notify parents sooner when an educator has been charged with a crime. And legislators in Sacramento moved immediately to comply.
The proposals by board members Tamar Galatzan, whose district includes Chatworth, and Nury Martinez -- and backed by board President Monica Garcia -- came in response to a series of sexual abuse allegations against 11 LAUSD employees, including , a Miramonte Elementary School teacher accused of molesting students in his classroom over a period of more than a decade. Another teacher at Telfair Elementary School in Pacoima, of Chatsworth, was arrested last fall and charged with 16 counts of sexual abuse of four children.
Additionally, Paul Adame, 37, a janitor at Germain Elementary School in Chatsworth, was arrested on suspicion of committing a lewd act.
A group of Republicans in the state Legislature announced plans Tuesday to introduce legislation that would do what the board's resolution requests and more.
"Public schools are supposed to be havens for safe learning, not a proving ground for sexual predators," said Sen. Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar.
Galatzan called the cases "disgusting and tragic" and faulted state legislators for ignoring the district's previous pleas to change the state Education Code in order to reduce appeal times and allow the LAUSD to cease paying teachers accused of wrongdoing.
"It's very hard when the state Education Code dictates so much of what goes on in a school district, and we really are hampered by a lot of state codes that don't support kids," she said.
It can take between two and seven years to fire a teacher, depending on the number of appeals, Galatzan said.
"In many cases, the district has to rehire an individual who we don't feel comfortable returning to the classroom," she said.
Under the state code, the district is required to send a teacher written notice that he or she has been charged with an act that could warrant termination, and the board has to wait at least 45 or 90 days, depending on the allegations, before acting.
"The cost and the time involved to dismiss an immoral or criminal employee can be a deterrent to doing what's right for a school and doing what's right for our children," Galatzan said.
Tenured educators have a right to a full administrative hearing within 60 days of being dismissed. That process usually takes more than a year, during which the accused teacher is entitled to be paid.
The vast majority of appeals by dismissed teachers end up being settled by the district, according to LAUSD Chief Labor and Employment Counsel Alexander Molina.
Galatzan, Martinez and Garcia also criticized as too restrictive a state- mandated adjudication process that bars the district from presenting incriminating evidence that occurred more than four years before a dismissal filing. It makes it "challenging for the district to submit the historical perspective of the teacher's performance, which can create a perception that performance issues are not deeply rooted," according to the proposal.
The district's resolution asks state education officials to make a broad range of changes to the code, including:
- allowing the district to remove a teacher from the classroom immediately after beginning dismissal proceedings;
- allowing the district to move to fire teachers over the summer;
- requiring accused teachers to agree to hearings within a certain number of days or risk losing salary and benefits during the adjudication process;
- allowing evidence to be presented that is more than four years old;
- allowing the district to stop paying fired teachers during the adjudication process, with the agreement that it will award back pay and benefits if the teacher appeals and wins; and
- prohibiting any employee convicted of sexual abuse of a minor from receiving his or her pension and retirement benefits even if the person retires before being fired.
A second resolution requires LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy to strengthen the process for notifying parents and an independent state credentialing commission when teachers are under criminal or administrative investigation. Martinez said parents should at least be notified when criminal charges have been filed.
"That is absolutely a trigger for us to notify parents," she said.
United Teachers Los Angeles President Warren Fletcher said the union supports the measures to increase student safety but does not absolve the district of blame for the recent spate of sex abuse cases.
"It is important to remember that we are in the current situation because LAUSD has not met basic standards of vigilance on a daily basis," Fletcher said. "LAUSD's failure of supervision led to a situation at Miramonte Elementary where a single principal supervised staff and more than 1,400 students, with no assistant principal."
The legislation proposed by Sacramento legislators would allow evidence in dismissal hearings that is more than four years old, speed up dismissals by scrapping notice requirements, allow suspensions or dismissals during the summer and would allow districts to suspend teachers without pay. School districts would be required to give teachers back pay if they were cleared of any wrongdoing.
The legislation would require districts to remove a teacher from the classroom if there is reasonable suspicion the teacher is being investigated by law enforcement. The bill would also empower districts to strip convicted felons of their pensions and retiree benefits.
"Parents have enough to worry about these days without having to fear for their children's safety when they are at school," Assemblywoman Connie Conway, R-Tulare, said. "The unspeakable crimes that Miramonte students were victims of must never happen again. This is why it is so important that we come together -- Republicans and Democrats alike -- and pass these reforms."