LAUSD addresses child abuse investigation audit; Teacher says district has gone too far
Tami Abdollah |
L.A. Unified Superintendent John Deasy said the district has already moved to address the recommendations in a state audit critical of how it reports and investigates allegations of child abuse.
Responding to a state audit that found delays in L.A. Unified School District's reporting of allegations of child abuse, Superintendent John Deasy said he has already improved the district's reporting and investigation procedures.
"The report looks backward at a moment in time," Deasy said. "I'm confident that every issue raised has already been addressed in LAUSD."
Democratic state Assemblyman Ricardo Lara of Bell Gardens requested the performance audit in March after two teachers from Miramonte Elementary School were accused of lewd acts on children.
The audit, which was released Thursday morning, found that the district often violated state law by failing to report allegations of teacher misconduct to the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing within the required 30-day period.
In the more extreme cases, the district took more than three years to report allegations of teacher misconduct, according to the audit. In one, a teacher was allegedly sexually involved with a student, but the report was not made until 3.5 years later.
State law requires the district to present allegations against a credential holder within four years of the alleged act, according Margarita Fernández, a spokeswoman for the California State Auditor.
"It's a big deal," Fernández said. "That's 3.5 years late. Well, they were pretty close to that four year statute of limitations."
Without a report, "the commission can't take any steps to determine whether it should revoke a teacher's certificate to teach, and thus prevent a teacher from working in other school districts," Fernández said.
Lara said he was surprised to learn that there is no centralized statewide mechanism to track or monitor allegations against classified employees who do not hold credentials.
Lara said he will aim to work with the various parties to try and create such a system. He also said he would work with Democratic state Sen. Alex Padilla to create a "more expeditious dismissal process."
Padilla's bill to speed the teacher dismissal process in certain egregious cases was allowed to die in committee this summer.
L.A. Unified has aggressively stepped up its response to allegations against teachers, creating an investigative unit this past spring, Deasy said. It now employs a dedicated staff that deals with inappropriate conduct, he said. Each region includes staff that focuses on such investigations.
Deasy said the district rereported every case since July 2008 after Mark Berndt, a teacher at Miramonte Elementary School accused of lewd acts on children, was not reported to the state for more than six months. Berndt remains in jail held in lieu of $23 million in bail.
The district houses teachers in what teachers refer to as "rubber rooms" — at sites away from their school and contact with students — while investigations are underway.
The audit found that the district has housed 700 teachers since it began tracking them in 2008 at a cost of millions in salary because they continue to receive pay while investigations drag on.
Deasy said the district is working to shorten the investigation time where possible, but that they are impacted by the speed of law enforcement investigations, which are not in the district's control.
UTLA President Warren Fletcher said the audit shows that L.A. Unified needs to focus on abiding by the law as it exists.
"There are timelines in the dismissal process that actually creates a streamlined system that aren't being met...by LAUSD now," Fletcher said.
Fletcher said the union is concerned about 300 teachers who are currently removed from their classrooms because of pending investigations. Some he said have been in "limbo" for years, "and that is not a good use of resources," Fletcher said.
The UTLA House of Representatives, its policymaking body, voted unanimously at the end of October to have the union officers come up with a plan to address teachers who are still being housed despite being cleared by police, to improve their conditions, and demand the district follow the timelines in place.
Maria Fe Garcia, a first-grade teacher at Fair Avenue Elementary School, is a 30-year veteran teacher who said she's been waiting for months for the result of an L.A. Unified investigation into allegations that she grabbed a boy's arm and fractured his wrist. Garcia said the student's mother is suing the district.
Garcia said she never touched the student and feels that she and other teachers have been swept up in a backlash after the Miramonte scandal.
"I'm afraid," Garcia said. "I'm really afraid I'm going to lose my job, for no reason, no reason whasoever. I'm still waiting to see what the district is going to do with me. And I'm not sure about it. I just want to let you know that it's not all bad people..."
She said she sees the importance of going after abusers, but that the district's overreacting; hundreds of teachers can't suddenly be abusers. Garcia said she misses her students.
"I would prefer to be in my classroom with my children," she said, "this is what I’m here for."
This story has been updated.
Tami Abdollah can be reached via email and on Twitter (@latams).