Los Angeles Unified School District is coming under fire for removing a nationally known teacher from his classroom at Hobart Boulevard Elementary School in Koreatown.
Teacher and author Rafe Esquith has appeared on Oprah and been featured in a PBS documentary. He's also been profiled in several KPCC events and stories, including a videotaped interview on his teaching philosophy.
District officials said Esquith was removed from the classroom in May, although some media including the Los Angeles Times report he has not been allowed to return to school since March. He's currently at home on paid leave.
According to media reports, Esquith's backers said he read students a passage from Huckleberry Finn that described a king prancing naked on all fours. The Washington Post said Esquith then joked that if fundraising efforts for Esquith's annual Shakespeare play failed, he guessed the class would perform naked as well, according to his attorney.
CBS2, which first reported the story last week, quotes Esquith's attorney, high-profile criminal defense lawyer Mark Geragos, as saying that the teacher will sue if he does not get an apology and reinstatement.
Geragos told the Times the California Teacher Credentialing Committee had cleared his client of any wrongdoing stemming from the Mark Twain reading.
Esquith did not respond to requests for comment. Geragos has not returned calls for this story.
Superintendent Ramon Cortines suggested in a statement last week that there was more to the case than might be evident from first reports.
“This is a very complex issue. While I respect that this teacher is extremely popular – and has been for some time – in the briefings that have been given to me, there are serious issues that go beyond the initial investigation.
“The Los Angeles Unified School District will not be rushed to make a decision and will complete our investigation with the highest level of integrity. The safety and security of every District student will remain our number one priority.”
An L.A. Unified spokesperson would not describe the “serious issues” to which the superintendent referred, but said that district administrators expect to finish their investigation before school starts in August.
Monica Garcia, the school board member that oversees Esquith's school, was not available for comment.
Esquith is the author of several books, including the New York Times bestsellers “Real Talk for Real Teachers” and “Teach Like Your Hair's on Fire: The Methods and Madness Inside Room 56.”
He has taught for over 30 years at Hobart Elementary and has been frequently quoted by teachers who have heard him speak.
His nonprofit Hobart Shakespeareans, a musical and theater production company made up of students in his classroom, has performed in numerous cities around the country.
Esquith has been critical of school bureaucracy, telling KPCC in 2013 that good teachers are an endangered species and that the system is “crushing” them.
He has called the Common Core learning standards an Orwellian approach to teaching math and English that doesn't address other factors that lead students to fail in school.