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Review of all LAUSD school site personnel files 'virtually impossible,' principals union prez says

Teacher Classroom Bondage

Damian Dovarganes/AP

The Miramonte Elementary school's principal, Martin Sandoval speaks to the media outside his school in Los Angeles on Jan. 31, 2012.

The head of the administrators union said a directive by LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy for principals to review all personnel files at their schools to ensure no misconduct went unreported is "virtually impossible to complete" in the allotted 60 days.

Deasy sent a letter to principals dated Feb. 15 directing them to immediately review all working folders at the school for certificated and classified employees to determine if all necessary reports have been made to authorities per state law. The review was ordered after a former Miramonte Elementary School teacher was accused of lewd acts on children.

The letter also requires principals to review current and past folders for any references to "complaints, letters, etc. from students, parents or adults regarding allegations of misconduct and/or any inappropriate behavior" even if the child protective agency determine not to investigate or determined the conduct was not a crime, so that appropriate administrative action such as discipline or dismissal can be taken.

"[Principals] are saying it's virtually impossible to complete that task within the timeframe given by the superintendent with all the additional responsibilities that the principals have," said Judth Perez, president of Associated Administrators of Los Angeles, which is the union that represents principals.

"Can you get it all done? Maybe you can get three years done, five years done. Can you get 50 years done? Do you have done the files that were from 1942? Those are the issues, the practical issues."

Perez wrote Deasy a letter in response to his directive. She raised several issues:

  • Over the years principals have been given multiple, often contradictory instructions on how and where to file suspected child abuse forms.
  • Due to lack of space many inactive files may be in school attics, basements or storerooms, some might have been taken home or damaged during construction, severe weather or by rodents.
  • An incoming principal might have no idea where old files are kept.
  • Schools often have itinerant and other personnel supervised by staff other than the principal and they might have no files at the schools. Who is responsible for locating and reviewing their files?

In response, the district released a "FAQ" fact sheet this week to help answer questions.

Some points from the FAQ:

  • All files at the school need to be reviewed regardless of date, including those for classified employees (certificated itinerant staff, office staff, assistants, food service workers, maintenance workers, etc.)
  • Files such as "inappropriate language; demeaning treatment; allegations of physical or sexual abuse; and inappropriate relationships" should be forwarded to the district.
  • Only principals can do this work and it is due by April 16, 2012.
  • Employees can look at their files and they also have a right to add a response to the conference summaries or any critical material in the file.
  • Files such as conference memos and letters of reprimand kept in a separate "expired" file after four years because they did not result in disciplinary action must also be reviewed.
  • Files need to be maintained "in perpetuity" on site in a locked file-cabinet stories in a secure, locked location.

The principals union responded to the FAQs sent out by the district in a weekly newsletter published online today asking the district for legal definitions of various terms used as well as details on how the district expects principals to scan documents without access to scanners at schools, among other issues.

The directive sent out by Deasy also includes an attached confirmation form for principals to fill out and certify that they have conducted the review.

Perez said the union was concerned about liability, whether the principals were responsible for the action or inaction of the previous principal by signing off on the form. The district specified in their FAQ response that principals are "only responsible for reviewing all files" at the site including the ones by the previous principals and forwarding on files to Staff Relations.

"Our concerns have to do with workload practicality, with resources to get it done, with support," Perez said. "The principals cannot delegate this task, so who's going to do all the other things they need to do? They can't remove the files from the school. If they have to do the work over the weekend are they getting extra compensation?"

Jefferson High School Principal Michael Taft goes to work at 5:30 a.m. each day and returns home many more than eight hours later. He said he has already begun work on the files on his own. "I'm trudging through it like all the other principals are," Taft said.

"We have a certain timeframe to work on this, and I'm not allowing this to interfere with the normal flow of things in my school site. That includes my major responsibility of being the instructional leader at the school site. I would never let this interfere with that...Basically you do as much with it as you can on a daily basis."

Taft said he believed the task was "feasible." "It's not something you can do overnight," Taft said. It's "a timeframe we can work within."

Fairfax High School Principal Bob Di Pietro was just finishing up his first day on the job today and he said he had not yet heard about the need to review files, but "I'm sure I will."

Tami Abdollah can be reached via email and on Twitter (@latams).

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