Reporting Serene Branson
LOS ANGELES (CBS) — LAUSD teachers call it “teacher jail”. It’s where they go if they are accused of inappropriate contact or a crime. There they sit in room or even at home continuing to get paid, while they wait for their accusations to be resolved. Our investigation found that it is costing taxpayers millions of dollars.
“The crime is the accusation. Innocence or guilt has nothing to do with it. You’re accused, you’re going to go through the system,” said a veteran teacher who for more than two has been getting paid not to teach.
“The district, who is laying teachers off is paying double salaries. They pay those teachers their normal salary to sit in a room and do nothing while they have to pay a substitute to teach their class.”
Fearing retaliation from the LAUSD, the teacher we spoke with, facing accusations from a former female student, did not want to reveal his identity.
The D.A. dropped the case against him, but the district then started its own investigation. It has been going on for years despite a policy that states it should have been resolved within 120 days. In the meantime he is in what he and his colleagues call “teacher jail” where currently 141 LAUSD teachers sit, waiting for allegations — large and small — to be resolved.
“There is a teacher, who was accused of a ridiculous accusation — a 35-year teacher. The student wrote a letter, ‘I lied. I was mad. I lied.’ After that letter was submitted to the district, the teacher was in teacher jail two more years… Once you’re accused the witch-hunt begins,” the teacher said.
There are eight district offices scattered throughout the county; each has a designated room for what the district calls “housed teachers”. Teachers said they check-in in the morning and check-out in the afternoon. They are not supposed to bring a cell phone or a laptop and they are only allowed to read educational material.
“These are professionals that are in a stark room for seven hours a day. That mountain of goodness and sacrifice, what does that amount to now? And that’s why teacher jail is so doggone depressing.”
We were granted access to the room for “housed” employees in the downtown headquarters. It was an empty room with two rows of desks and chairs at opposite walls — like a place you would sit to take a written driving exam at the DMV.
“It’s really less than one half of one percent of certificated workforce that is housed,” said LAUSD General Counsel David Holmquist.
The district says it expects to spend a staggering $9 million of taxpayer money in salaries and legal costs on these teachers this year; about two-thirds continue to get full salary, some for several years. We asked what takes so long.
“Our goal, and we have policy at this point, is to conduct an investigation within 30 days and make a determination within 120, of whether or not we’re going to move them towards dismissal or whether or not we will to provide other forms of disciplinary or return to them to the work site,” Holmquist said.
But we spoke with one who has been housed for two and a half years.
“None of us want to see that happen,” Holmquist said.
But according to the district’s own records, 100 of the 141 teachers currently out of the classroom have been there longer than 120 days. Holmquist places the blame on law enforcement.
“One of the reasons why we don’t always achieve this is law enforcement does one-third of investigations that we do, so they may take a year or more,” Holmquist said.
We went to United Teachers Los Angeles President A.J. Duffy to ask what is being done about the lengthy stays. He said they are trying to keep pressure on the district to move things along.
“If we do things in a quick, expeditious way, we get teachers either out of the profession if they are proven guilty of doing something that is immoral or illegal. If not, put them back in the classrooms.” Duffy said.
The district came under fire three years ago after Assistant Principal Steven Thomas Rooney was convicted of molesting students. The district simply shuffled him to different schools instead of removing him from campus.
Holmquist said that since then they have formed a four-person team dedicated to allegations.
“For us the biggest determinate is the safety of our students. If allegations are brought that we feel in any way might put a student at risk, we’re going to err on side of protecting students,” Holmquist said.
“What has happened in L.A. Unified is they’ve been burned, which was completely their fault,” the housed teacher said adding, “What the district has done is thrown the baby out with the bath water.”
For this teacher — a father and grandfather — no matter what happens, he said, for the half who have return to school, it has ruined reputations and tainted passion for teaching.
“After they have demeaned you ruined reputation, embarrassed you to your family, your friends, your colleagues, after they have grinded you and sapped you of whatever life you’ hoped to have. It’s indescribable, the torturous condition these professional people who have dedicated their lives to serving the school district and the kids and treated worse than a criminal.”
The teacher we spoke with said he was recently told to continue time at home while the district continued to investigate his case.
To put in perspective, these “teacher jails” are not just L.A. In San Francisco teachers are reassigned to clerical work, but the contract with LAUSD prohibits that. New York unified recently revamped their policy for rubber rooms, where teachers cannot be kept longer than 90 days.