Nearly 100 people, including dozens of Miramonte Elementary School teachers, marched alongside parents and students outside an unopened South L.A. high school where the educators have been placed for nearly three months, demanding their return to their classrooms.
Wearing the blue and yellow t-shirts of Miramonte school students and white ribbons to symbolize their innocence, the teachers chanted "Hey hey, ho ho, where should all the teachers go? Miramonte's where we need to go." They held signs that said "Miramonte is our home" and "Bring back our innocent Miramonte staff" while cars honked in support as they drove down Hoover Street.
Roughly 120 staffers, including about 85 teachers, were removed from their classrooms Feb. 9 as part of an investigation into two teachers arrested for lewd acts on children and placed at Augustus F. Hawkins High School. L.A. Unified Superintendent John Deasy said it was a drastic but necessary step to ensure the safety to children. But union officials say the superintendent went too far.
For nearly three months neither the district nor United Teachers Los Angeles has provided details about the teachers' status or the ongoing investigation into staffers. Union officials said a grievance it filed Feb. 8 to protest the unlawful removal of an entire school staff required them to honor a "confidentiality clause" that, if broken, could possibly prevent teachers' return to their classrooms.
"We got caught in the crossfire, that's how I feel," said Andrea Shaffer, a sixth grade teacher at Miramonte Elementary School who was relocated. "The actions of one person really messed it up for a lot of other people."
Shaffer said she felt like the teachers had been treated like "political pawns" over the last few months. Over the last weeks teachers have received letters telling them they are "cleared" of any wrongdoing in the investigation. She received her letter from the district last week.
"I'm cleared, but I didn't do anything wrong in the first place," Shaffer said. "I'm cleared of what? That's what we say."
Shaffer was marching today with a sign that read "Due process is a constitutional right." She said the district should have looked at other options, such as improving how it screens teachers. Shaffer said she felt bad about how much the transition of the school — replacing staff and placing staff elsewhere — had cost the district and how it affected students.
The cost of the entire action was estimated by the district to be about $5.7 million, said LAUSD spokesman Thomas Waldman.
"The cost for this transition, that's what makes me feel guilty," Shaffer said. "And I have done nothing wrong."
As a teacher on "track D" at the school, Shaffer had students who finished classes Wednesday, and she attended the culmination service for her sixth graders. "All you can tell them is come see me next year," Shaffer said.
Today was her first day off, and Shaffer was thankful to be outdoors. As she walked along 60th Street a fifth grader found her and beamed. For many teachers the event was like a reunion as parents and their kids greeted them with hugs and sometimes tears.
Shaffer said teachers spent most of their days from 7:30 a.m. to 2:15 p.m. or so inside the unopened high school. She said teachers would read, try and keep themselves productive and try to pass the time.
"There's not enough PD [professional development] to fill five days a week," Shaffer said. "...We work together to try to keep it together. You get stir crazy after a while."