AirTalk for March 12, 2012

LAUSD proposals aim to protect students from sexual abuse in schools

Krista Kennell/AFP/Getty Images

Parents and children protest outside Miramonte Elementary School in Los Angeles, California, February 6, 2012.

In the wake of the Miramonte Elementary School scandal, LAUSD board members unveiled two resolutions today aimed at protecting children from sexual predators in schools.

The first proposal, authored by board member Tamar Galatzan, would change the state’s Education Code to streamline employee dismissals.

"LAUSD fires teachers, but after that is really when this whole process kicks in, with appeals that take two to seven years and cost millions of dollars to force the district just to settle," she explained. "Changes to state law would streamline this process, would make it less costly while still giving employees the right to appeal."

Galatzan wants districts to be able to stop paying terminated employees during the administrative appeals process, which can last up to a year and to take away pension and health benefits for employees convicted of sex abuse. Pensions would go back into the districts to pay for legal costs, and the surplus would go to charity.

"We’re talking about people who have breached the most important trust that we can give them — who have abused our children — and they’re profiting off of it,” she said.

According to Galatzan, the education code currently addresses immoral conduct, not unprofessional conduct. She hopes that with the additional category, teachers who behave inappropriately but do not get criminally charged can be fired.

"The district has employees that we’re basically just permanently housing because we don’t feel comfortable ever returning this person to a classroom or a school, but we don’t have enough to fire them because of the very limited rules in the state education code about what you need to fire someone," she said.

The second resolution is authored by Nury Martinez, and is focused on improving the ability of districts to identify, remove and prosecute employees who sexually or physically abuse children. In an attempt to control the spread of rumors and misinformation, this resolution calls for a uniform procedure for informing students and teachers about any misconduct cases that occur at the school.

President of United Teachers Los Angeles Warren Fletcher said he's concerned that LAUSD have their sights on finding solutions for the wrong issues.

"As teachers, we understand that the safety of students has to come first. But LAUSD has over the years done a very poor job of actually discharging those duties," he said.

According to Fletcher, the Miramonte scandal is an example of LAUSD's failure to prevent potential future problems. He said despite former teacher Mark Berndt's arrest, only one principal was supervising Miramonte, the second largest elementary school in the district.

"No matter how good that principal was, he would have had to be in track shoes to be able to effectively monitor the school. Monitoring instruction and making sure that children are safe isn’t just about procedures and maximizing the number of firings. It’s about getting it right in advance so students are protected in advance," Fletcher said.

The resolutions are likely to be approved at a board meeting in April. Galatzan said she anticipates support from other board members.

Will these measures make kids safer? Do they go far enough? Might there be unintended consequences whereby good teachers could be negatively affected? As a parent, what do you want the district to do about this situation? As a teacher, how do these proposals look to you?

Guests:

Tamar Galatzan, LAUSD Board Member, District 3

Warren Fletcher, President, United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA)


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