Education

LAUSD raises more allegations against Rafe Esquith after teacher files lawsuit

Well-known Hobart Elementary School teacher Rafe Esquith speaks at a KPCC Crawford Family Forum event in 2013.
Well-known Hobart Elementary School teacher Rafe Esquith speaks at a KPCC Crawford Family Forum event in 2013.
KPCC

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The Los Angeles Unified School District this week raised additional allegations against renowned teacher Rafe Esquith, stating it is investigating whether the educator inappropriately touched children, among other new issues.

Esquith's attorney said the latest allegations are false.

The district's charges followed Esquith's filing of a lawsuit Thursday against the school district in Los Angeles County Superior Court. In the lawsuit, he claims his employer mishandled his case which began with a report that he made a reference to a passage in "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" describing a king dancing naked.

Esquith was removed from his Hobart Boulevard Elementary School classroom in March and assigned to his home with pay. He gave notice to the district in June that he planned to file the lawsuit. 

Through his attorney, Esquith dismissed the district's actions against him as illegal and akin to that of a “criminal cartel.” (See Esquith's lawsuit below.)

In a letter to Esquith's attorney, the district rejected the teacher's claim that he suffered damages from the original charges. The district said while it was investigating the initial accusations “additional serious allegations of misconduct by Mr. Esquith came to light.”

Specifically, the district said its investigation "revealed serious allegations of highly inappropriate conduct involving touching of minors before and during Mr. Esquith's time at the School District.”

The letter went on to say that the district's investigation also “revealed possible ethical and District policy violations in Mr. Esquith's relationship with his nonprofit (the Hobart Shakespeareans).”

Further, the district stated, its investigation “revealed multiple inappropriate photographs and videos of a sexual nature found on Mr. Esquith's school computer, plus multiple inappropriate email correspondence with students and conduct inconsistent with the Code of Conduct guidelines.

“There have also been allegations of threats to a parent and two students that were revealed through the investigation,” the letter states, though no details of the threats were provided. (Read the district's letter below.)

Asked if Los Angeles police have been contacted about allegations that may rise to a criminal case, district spokeswoman Shannon Haber said by email: “As mandated reporters, we always report allegations of suspected child abuse to the appropriate agency.”

KPCC asked LAPD for information, but the department provided no immediate comment.

Mark Geragos, Esquith's attorney, derided the district's actions in an email to KPCC.

“The LAUSD is being run like a Criminal Cartel,” Geragos wrote. “Rafe has decided that at great personal cost that their illegal activity needs to be exposed.”

Geragos later told KPCC by phone that he will be filing a federal class-action lawsuit next week. Among other issues, the attorney contends LAUSD is raising allegations against his client as part of an effort to get rid of teachers who are costly to the school district.

“LAUSD has a pattern and practice of trying to divest teachers of their pensions as they get older and this is one of the things they did with Rafe,” Geragos said. 

LAUSD did not comment on Geragos' remarks. A spokeswoman did say the school district is obligated to investigate all allegations against Esquith.

The class-action lawsuit is also expected to challenge so-called teacher jails in which instructors are assigned to locations such as education centers or their homes while allegations against them are resolved. One of Esquith's attorneys has said teachers describe the assignments as "torture" and deny the instructors their due process rights.

This story has been updated.