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LA Unified board approves measures on employee discipline procedures

Vanessa Romo/KPCC

Miramonte Elementary students and parents protest outside their school.

The L.A. Unified Board of Education unanimously passed two resolutions today that seek to change the district's employee discipline procedures, including how and when parents are notified of accusations against a teacher, after a recent spate of reported misconduct cases.

The first resolution, authored by board member Tamar Galatzan and co-sponsored by board member Nury Martinez and board president Monica Garcia, calls on legislators to make changes to the state's Education Code to speed up credentialed employee dismissals. Superintendent John Deasy has 30 days to return to the board with a plan of action on how to pursue such changes as a district priority. 

Among other things, the resolution asks for legislators to change the law to allow evidence to be introduced from more than four years prior to the district's filing for a teacher's dismissal. A clause within teachers' contracts requires unproven allegations of misconduct and reprimands that didn't result in discipline be removed from active personnel files after four years.

The resolution also calls on legislators to allow districts to stop paying employees once they are dismissed by the board and during the appeals process, which can often last for more than a year.

"We end up paying these people to go away," Galatzan said during today's board meeting. "Because it is cheaper than spending the years and years fighting to get this person off our payroll...We need the flexibility and freedom to dismiss certificated employees who hurt our kids."

Finally the resolution asks lawmakers to strip pension and retirement benefits from certificated employees convited of sexual abuse against children. Currently teachers can resign during the process, as Berndt did, and keep their full pension and health benefits.

The resolution is very similar to one that was approved by the board in 2009, which also called on legislators to enact changes to the Education Code, but the action was not pursued in Sacramento.

But this time things appear to be different.

State Republican lawmakers announced plans today to introduce legislation that will expedite the dismissal process for teachers who have engaged in criminal behaviors. They plan to introduce legislation this week specifically as a response to L.A. Unified's recent sex-abuse scandal.

The second resolution, authored by Martinez and co-sponsored by Galatzan and Garcia, aims to create a procedure for how and when the district notifies parents about misconduct cases; it also aims to create a "centralized and computerized, confidential database" for all complaints.

The measure requests Superintendent John Deasy develop a process within 60 days for creating such procedures that would allow the district to take immediate action when a teacher is arrested for alleged misconduct, which may include "summary dismissal" and instant notification to parents.

Martinez said it isn't right for parents to learn about what is happening in their kids schools from media reports. "This is not a labor issue, this is about doing the right thing," Martinez said. "We need to fix this. It's our responsbility."

Board member Richard Vladovic said he supported the measure and was assured it maintained due process for teachers. 

"Our teachers are some of the best teachers in the world, and in no way should this be an indictment of teachers. In no way. There's going to be aberrant behavior in most professions," Vladovic said. "...Day in and day out, like ivory soap, 99 and 9/10ths pure, our teachers are dedicated and want nothing but to help."

UTLA President Warren Fletcher has said he supports measures that include "vigorous and fair investigations of all allegations of misconduct."

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

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