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LA Unified principals submit 8,300 files of possible unreported misconduct

Parents of students at Miramonte Elementary School escort children out of school on Feb. 6, 2012.
Parents of students at Miramonte Elementary School escort children out of school on Feb. 6, 2012.
Grant Slater/KPCC

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So far, L.A. Unified officials have received about 8,300 files from more than 900 school and offices, after principals were ordered to send in any unreported misconduct files from over the last 40 years.

In February, Superintendent John Deasy ordered principals to submit all such files from 1,222 schools and offices by May 30. But that deadline was extended to last Friday. The district is still waiting to hear from 281 schools and offices, said LAUSD spokesman Thomas Waldman.

"The superintendent said, with changes in personnel and principals being cut from schools, he's expecting the rest of the files to come in shortly," Waldman said.

Not all of the files that have been sent in are necessarily "unreported misconduct," as principals may have sent in additional files in order to ensure no possible misconduct slipped through the cracks, officials said.

The district is planning to hire a team of eight retirees who will review each of the files, Waldman said. The team would cost the district $400,000 and will likely be voted on by the school board as part of the final budget Thursday, Waldman said.

Retirees were selected for the job because it would be "too great a burden" on the district's current HR employees, Waldman said. "We are hiring knowledgeable and experienced retirees with the time to devote to this project," he said.

Two retirees will look at each of the files, which were electronically scanned over to the central office. If one person feels a file warrants more serious review then the school or office will be notified that "further due diligence is required," Waldman said.

The range of misconduct includes "any incident of inappropriate interactions between employees and students," Waldman said. "So that could be physical and that could be verbal," he said.

It's not clear what may happen to such teachers whose files require more review. Since cases may span back to 1972, many of the teachers may be retired or no longer with the district.

According to state law, evidence beyond four years cannot be included in misconduct cases, though there are legislative efforts to change that. SB1530, sponsored by Democratic state Sen. Alex Padilla of Pacoima, will be discussed by legislators Wednesday.

"We fully expect, that in many cases, the appropriate action has already been taken," Waldman said.

The district plans to start the review of the files this summer and aims to complete the project within three months, Waldman said. "We'll know after the first month if that's realistic," Waldman said.

L.A. Unified has sent 604 cases of alleged teacher misconduct from the past four years to the state’s teacher credentialing agency for possible investigation after a separate internal investigation was ordered in February to ensure that all reported cases were properly filed.

Deasy ordered the investigations into the files after it was discovered the district broke state law when it waited a year before notifying the state that it had fired Miramonte Elementary School teacher Mark Berndt. Berndt is charged with committing 23 lewd acts on children.

Principals were initially ordered to send any unreported misconduct files without a time limitation, but Deasy narrowed that to 40 years.

United Teachers Los Angeles President Warren Fletcher said in a statement that "teachers welcome accountability" but that the district's method was more "PR-driven."

"LAUSD opted for a PR-driven appearance of vigilance and oversight in the place of discharging their duties in a timely manner to ensure that students are protected," Fletcher said. "LAUSD has spent years out of compliance with the state’s requirements and the dangerous situation they created then can’t be erased. You can’t un-ring that bell”.  

This story has been updated.

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