LAUSD To Vote On Misconduct Resolutions
LAUSD will confront several issues next week in light of concerns expressed toward the district's management of teacher misconduct cases. The L.A. Unified Board of Education will vote at its Tuesday meeting on two resolutions drafted to reorganize information held on teachers. The resolution materialized alongside an approved state audit of the district's performance already underway.
“I am very happy that we’re going to be able to get some answers, not only for the victims and families, but also to try to bring some clarity to this whole process, ensuring that our kids are safe in schools," said Assemblyman Ricard Lara who requested the audit last week. "I’m glad LAUSD is working with us.”
Questions about the district's organization and management of past files comes as a reaction to the case of Mark Berndt, the Miramonte Elementary School teacher charged with 23 counts of lewd conduct against students. Authorities uncovered that Berndt had been the target of a police investigation in the 1990s, but his files on record at LAUSD indicated no previous acts of misconduct.
Another recent case, Paul Chapel of Telfair Elementary faces accusations of 16 counts of lewd acts. He was tried for an alleged molestation case in 1997, but not convicted, and continued to work at Los Angeles schools. Authorities say his record should have been a warning sign with his most recent lawsuit. The case shows crucial parallels to Berndt's investigation.
"In the case of Mark Berndt, the district hasn't been able to find any documentation of past issues raised against him even though we know there were some issues," said Los Angeles Times reporter Howard Blume who has followed the story.
A clause found in LAUSD teacher contracts pointed to a faulty system of managing records of misconduct. It ruled that unproven allegations against teachers were to be removed from personnel files after four years.
The day after the Los Angeles Times reported on the contract that complicated identifying teacher misbehavior, L.A. schools Superintendent John Deasy announced his effort to seek removal of the clause.
"In the interests of affording greater protections to our students, I have instructed the [district] negotiating team to enter into discussions immediately with the teachers' union to change or eliminate this practice," Deasy said in a statement.
While holding the teachers' union accountable for having the contract rule there in the first place, the error now looks at an outdated Education Code--something Tuesday's resolutions claim to be fixing.
"Folks don't realize, so much of what we get frustrated with at LAUSD, and-- to be honest-- [what] UTLA gets blamed for, isn't their fault, isn't our fault. It's state ed code," said board member Tamar Galatzan who is writing the first resolution. "It's the state legislature micromanaging how school districts run their schools, and that's a really good example."
The first resolution calls for changes in the code and how it deals with credentialed employee dismissals. Along with several other adjustments, the resolution would also call for the Education Code to allow evidence older than four years be introduced in a teacher's dismal filing.
The second resolution, written by board member Nury Martinez, would address the district's responsibility to inform parents of misconduct cases and create a computerized database for complaints.
These changes come in a wave of adjustments LAUSD is making to better address the issue of sexual misconduct by its teachers. Though the district appeared flustered by the influx of cases plaguing the schools at the beginning of 2012, and though it seemed that more acts of misbehavior had occurred in classrooms, the trend does not necessarily indicate more misconduct.
"Law enforcement tells us they don't believe that there's a spike in sexual misconduct, but there's a heighten awareness of it. So what we're seeing is there's more reporting of it," said Blume. "Police don't believe there's more of it, they just believe there's more awareness."