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LAUSD addresses child abuse investigation audit; Teacher says district has gone too far

Mercer 10730

AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes

L.A. Unified Superintendent John Deasy said the district has already moved to address the recommendations in a state audit critical of how it reports and investigates allegations of child abuse.

Responding to a state audit that found delays in L.A. Unified School District's reporting of allegations of child abuse, Superintendent John Deasy said he has already improved the district's reporting and investigation procedures.

"The report looks backward at a moment in time," Deasy said. "I'm confident that every issue raised has already been addressed in LAUSD."

Democratic state Assemblyman Ricardo Lara of Bell Gardens requested the performance audit in March after two teachers from Miramonte Elementary School were accused of lewd acts on children.

The audit, which was released Thursday morning, found that the district often violated state law by failing to report allegations of teacher misconduct to the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing within the required 30-day period.

In the more extreme cases, the district took more than three years to report allegations of teacher misconduct, according to the audit. In one, a teacher was allegedly sexually involved with a student, but the report was not made until 3.5 years later.

State law requires the district to present allegations against a credential holder within four years of the alleged act, according Margarita Fernández, a spokeswoman for the California State Auditor.

"It's a big deal," Fernández said. "That's 3.5 years late. Well, they were pretty close to that four year statute of limitations."

Without a report, "the commission can't take any steps to determine whether it should revoke a teacher's certificate to teach, and thus prevent a teacher from working in other school districts," Fernández said.

Lara said he was surprised to learn that there is no centralized statewide mechanism to track or monitor allegations against classified employees who do not hold credentials.

Lara said he will aim to work with the various parties to try and create such a system. He also said he would work with Democratic state Sen. Alex Padilla to create a "more expeditious dismissal process."

Padilla's bill to speed the teacher dismissal process in certain egregious cases was allowed to die in committee this summer.


L.A. Unified has aggressively stepped up its response to allegations against teachers, creating an investigative unit this past spring, Deasy said. It now employs a dedicated staff that deals with inappropriate conduct, he said. Each region includes staff that focuses on such investigations.

Deasy said the district rereported every case since July 2008 after Mark Berndt, a teacher at Miramonte Elementary School accused of lewd acts on children, was not reported to the state for more than six months. Berndt remains in jail held in lieu of $23 million in bail.

The district houses teachers in what teachers refer to as "rubber rooms" — at sites away from their school and contact with students — while investigations are underway.

The audit found that the district has housed 700 teachers since it began tracking them in 2008 at a cost of millions in salary because they continue to receive pay while investigations drag on.

Deasy said the district is working to shorten the investigation time where possible, but that they are impacted by the speed of law enforcement investigations, which are not in the district's control.

UTLA President Warren Fletcher said the audit shows that L.A. Unified needs to focus on abiding by the law as it exists.

"There are timelines in the dismissal process that actually creates a streamlined system that aren't being met...by LAUSD now," Fletcher said. 

Fletcher said the union is concerned about 300 teachers who are currently removed from their classrooms because of pending investigations. Some he said have been in "limbo" for years, "and that is not a good use of resources," Fletcher said.

The UTLA House of Representatives, its policymaking body, voted unanimously at the end of October to have the union officers come up with a plan to address teachers who are still being housed despite being cleared by police, to improve their conditions, and demand the district follow the timelines in place.

Maria Fe Garcia, a first-grade teacher at Fair Avenue Elementary School, is a 30-year veteran teacher who said she's been waiting for months for the result of an L.A. Unified investigation into allegations that she grabbed a boy's arm and fractured his wrist. Garcia said the student's mother is suing the district.

Garcia said she never touched the student and feels that she and other teachers have been swept up in a backlash after the Miramonte scandal.

"I'm afraid," Garcia said. "I'm really afraid I'm going to lose my job, for no reason, no reason whasoever. I'm still waiting to see what the district is going to do with me. And I'm not sure about it. I just want to let you know that it's not all bad people..."

She said she sees the importance of going after abusers, but that the district's overreacting; hundreds of teachers can't suddenly be abusers. Garcia said she misses her students.

"I would prefer to be in my classroom with my children," she said, "this is what I’m here for."

This story has been updated.

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

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Audit: LA Unified schools 'could do more' to improve handling of child abuse reports

Miramonte Elementary School

Grant Slater/KPCC

L.A. Unified "could do more to improve its handling of child abuse allegations" and has often failed to follow state law, according to an audit released Thursday. The audit was requested after two teachers at Miramonte Elementary School were arrested for lewd acts on children.

L.A. Unified has often failed to follow state law in its child abuse reporting procedures, delaying some notifications to the agency for teacher credentialing by up to three years, according to a state audit on how the district handles child abuse released Thursday.

Here are the key findings in the 62-page report and the district's six-page response, both of which can be read below:

1) The district didn't always properly notify the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing. After a review of claims going back to July 1, 2008, the district submitted 604 cases to the commission in three months. Of these cases, at least 144 were submitted a year or more late; 31 more than three years late.

  • Of the 31 late cases, 23 involved misconduct against a student. According to the report, in one case a teacher's sexual relationship with a student was reported 3.5 years late; "thus, the commission could not promptly determine whether to revoke the teacher's certificate and prevent the teacher from working in other school districts."

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State audit on how LA Unified handles child abuse claims to be released

Protestors march near Miramonte Elementa

AFP/AFP/Getty Images

The results of a state audit on how L.A. Unified handles child abuse claims will be released after an eight-month review of its reporting policies and procedures. Democratic state Assemblyman Ricardo Lara of Bell Gardens requested the audit in March after two teachers at Miramonte Elementary School were arrested for lewd conduct on children and a spate of other reports followed.

The results of a state audit on how L.A. Unified handles child abuse claims is set to be released Thursday morning after an eight-month review of reporting policies and procedures in the nation's seconds-largest school district.

The request for the performance audit was put forward by Democratic state Assemblyman Ricardo Lara of Bell Gardens in March and unanimously approved by the Joint Legislative Audit Committee.

Lara asked the committee to perform the audit after two teachers from Miramonte Elementary School were accused of lewd acts on children. L.A. Unified fielded a spate of increased reports after the teachers' arrests in two separate cases.

At the time, Lara said he hoped to get a "comprehensive look at what current policies are in place and identify any lapses or omissions."

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LAUSD board votes to extend superintendent's contract through June 2015

John Deasy

Nick Ut/AP

John Deasy, head of the Los Angeles Unified School District, has had his contract extended for one more year through June 2015.

The L.A. Unified board Tuesday unanimously approved extending Superintendent John Deasy's contract for one more year through June 2015.

The vote was 6-0 with board member Richard Vladovic absent because of a "hardship," according to a release from school board President Monica Garcia's office. The formerly two-year contract was set to expire in June 2014.

“Dr. Deasy and his administrative team helped move our district forward in the face of so many challenges," Garcia said in the statement. "It is evident that there is good, thoughtful leadership at LAUSD and the unanimous vote validates that.”

The contract extension was part of the district's regular annual evaluation of the superintendent's performance.

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

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South LA Schools team up to fight reconsitution

The conflict between activists and LA Unified Superintendent John Deasy over the district’s reconstitution of Dorsey High School is coming to a head. Just as the final deadline to prevent a school takeover looms for Dorsey (it has until Oct. 31 to submit a school reform plan), Crenshaw High School faces a similar process.

That’s why the two South LA schools joined forces and organized a public meeting tonight to inform Crenshaw parents and students about the disctrict's effort to reform underachieving schools. 

LA Unified can reconstitute a school when it fails to meet state-mandated educational benchmarks under the federal No Child Left Behind act. That means the district can lay off the entire staff at a school and make everyone re-apply for their jobs. Those who are re-hired must sign contracts that includes provisions based on student performance on standardized tests.

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