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LAUSD Misconduct Files Unearthed In Massive Investigation

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A review of 40 years' worth of Los Angeles Unified personnel files that cost $400,000 over the past 20 months led to the resignations of two teachers and the recommendation that two more be fired for misconduct, according to district officials.

Two additional teachers remain under investigation for inappropriate behavior with students, officials said, and two others were cleared of wrongdoing and returned to the classroom.

Those eight cases are the result of what officials call simply "the file project" -- a search through four decades of school-site records for letters, complaints or other reports of inappropriate behavior that may have been ignored or mishandled. Officials said they flagged 8,972 files for further review, but ultimately found just eight that warranted a full-fledged investigation.

Superintendent John Deasy ordered the file search in February 2012, after the Miramonte sex-abuse scandal sparked concerns about the prior handling of misconduct allegations.

"I didn't know what we would find, but I didn't want any more surprises when it came to misconduct," Deasy said in an interview last week. "I've now taken all the steps that I know of to make sure there's no misconduct that should have been acted on that wasn't."

District General Counsel David Holmquist declined to provide any details of the allegations contained in the eight files.

"I don't think we're prepared to say whether they were sexual or physical," Holmquist said. "The common denominator is that we felt that -- consistent with our practice and policy -- it put students at risk and so they (the teachers) were pulled (from the classroom)."

Officials said some of the files had only one document while others were much more extensive. In one instance, the alleged abuse occurred "many years ago." In some cases, the records showed the teacher had been verbally reprimanded for past misconduct, then allowed to return to the classroom.

Since Miramonte, however, teachers accused of misconduct are pulled from their classroom and "housed" in administrative offices during investigations that typically take months. Those found to have endangered the well-being of students are put on the track for dismissal.

Officials said one teacher identified in the file project resigned as soon as the investigation was opened, and the seven others were housed while their cases were reviewed. Only the two cleared of the allegations returned to class.

When Deasy launched the file project, he ordered the principals at more than 900 campuses to comb the file of every teacher or classified employee who'd ever worked at the school. He later narrowed the focus to 40 years because some schools are more than a century old and the task proved overwhelming.

The nearly 9,000 files with records of inappropriate activity were digitized, then reviewed by 20 retired administrators who were temporarily brought back to pore through the records.

Human Resources Executive Director Vivian Ekchian said the retirees worked in two-person teams and had to agree whether or not a case warranted further scrutiny. If the partners disagreed, a third administrator was brought in to make the final decision.

Focusing only on employees who still worked for the district, the review teams came up with eight cases that warranted full-fledged investigations. For that, the district created teams made up of school-site administrators, experts from the district's Inspector General's Office and retired investigators brought back from LAUSD's own police department.

They were tasked with tracking down former principals, co-workers and students -- some found to be living in Riverside or San Bernardino counties -- so they could be asked about alleged incidents that took place years earlier.

"It was very difficult," Ekchian said. "These are student witnesses or adults who are no longer working for us. The investigators had to check multiple addresses and look at yearbooks and ask for individuals who might recognize or know about them."

Since February 2012, officials said, the retired administrators and investigative teams spent roughly 5,600 man-hours on the file project.

The district had budgeted $400,000 for the effort and spent nearly that -- $122,600 for the administrative review and $272,000 for the investigation.

That cost doesn't factor in the hundreds of hours that Ekchian's Human Resources team spent on the file project or the efforts of principals who had to rummage through school basements and storage sheds for files dating back to the year Richard Nixon was elected president.

"When I think about the immense effort, I question whether it was worth going back that many years," said Judith Perez, president of Associated Administrators of Los Angeles, the union representing the district's principals.

"Our top priority is the safety of children. We agree with that, no question. But the huge amount of time and energy I think was over the top."

But district officials say it was worth the cost and effort to ensure the safety of the district's students.

They do not want a recurrence of Miramonte, the Los Angeles school where former teacher Mark Berndt of Torrance is accused of molesting 23 students. He has pleaded not guilty to criminal charges and is awaiting a preliminary hearing.

The district, meanwhile, has agreed to pay about $30 million to settle claims filed by 63 alleged victims of Berndt. An additional 65 claims have yet to be resolved.

"If the district has in its power the ability to go through files and make sure that child abusers aren't in our current employment, we need to do that," said school board member Tamar Galatzan, who has pushed efforts to hire professional investigators to handle misconduct cases.

The Miramonte scandal prompted a number of reforms, including one that requires parents to be notified within 72 hours if an employee at their child's school is housed for misconduct.

Officials also plan to hire a team of professional investigators by December to look into allegations of teacher misconduct. They're also working to create a centralized database of personnel records -- including the 9,000 in the file project -- so they can better track employee discipline.

"This was worthwhile," Holmquist said. "We can say we've gone back and reviewed all the files in the district and found just a very small number that warranted some teachers for a further look. Hopefully, that gives some people a feeling of some comfort."

Earlier on HuffPost:

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