Miramonte Elementary School teachers made their first public comments today during a march and press conference in front of a South L.A. high school where they have been placed for the last three months as officials conducted an investigation into two teachers arrested on charges of misconduct with students.
The staff members, fearful that giving their personal accounts would jeopardize their ability to return to their classrooms, collectively voted on three statements written among them to present anonymously.
One teacher related feeling "shocked and numb" at having to leave the school in early February during two pupil free days they had to relocate. "I was expected to pack up 10 years in two days," the teacher said. "I was overwhelmed with so many emotions, sadness, anger...anxiety, fear."
"At several meetings we were told we were innocent, but in the same breath they told us we couldn't work at any of the LAUSD campuses because we were part of an investigation," the teacher continued.
Roughly 120 staff members, among them about 85 teachers, have spent their days in second-floor classrooms at Augustus F. Hawkins High School waiting for the district and sheriff's deputies to finish up their investigation. Teachers said they were asked to identify students in photos by deputies. Over the last couple weeks teachers have begun to receive "cleared" notices.
But union officials and teachers criticized how long it took to finish up the investigation. The teacher said staff spent "six weeks in the dark" with no news on their status or interviews. The teacher described dressing up to go to the high school campus to lift their spirits and "feel like I'm going to work."
Teachers said students had been hurt by the abrupt removal of their entire school staff, including nine cafeteria workers, four custodial staffers, six special education teachers, 76 general education teachers, three long-term substitues, two counselors, one psychologist, one nurse and one principal, among others.
Ingrid Villeda, the South Area chair for United Teachers Los Angeles, said teachers wanted to know when they could return to the school and how staffing will be determined.
Miramonte Elementary will close at the end of this school year and reopen slightly smaller as part of a separate district effort to reduce year-round schools in conjunction with its building program. Villeda said that means only 45 of the roughly 85 teachers would have a spot at Miramonte Elementary.
L.A. Unified Superintedent John Deasy said Wednesday that staff members, once cleared, will be able to return to the school of their choice, as is typically done in such a scenario and according to seniority. Deasy said the district will work with those teachers who are currently at Miramonte Elementary School and who are continuing on their contract to find a new spot for them.
Villeda said teachers were worried that those who might have to interview for jobs at other schools will not be treated the same if they are one of the Miramonte 85.
"That process will not be the same for these people," Villeda said. "They carry a certain connotation."
Villeda said some of the Miramonte staffers had students in the schools. Roughly 15 kids had their parents who worked at the school removed from campus in February. Like all staffers, they were told not to have any contact with the school, Villeda said. But these staff members were told they could not attend parent-teacher conferences or pick up their kids from school. "The treatment has been unjust," Villeda said.
A spokesman with L.A. Unified declined to comment today about the Miramonte teachers' rally.
But Deasy said it was necessary to take drastic measures to ensure there were no more surprises at Miramonte and investigate how no one knew what was going on, even if it would cost the district $5.7 million to do so.
"Absolutely it was the right move," Deasy said in an interview Wednesday. "You don't put a price on safety."