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LA Teachers Protest Against 'Teacher Jails'

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Calling for an end to what they say is harassment, hundreds of United Teachers Los Angeles members rallied at district offices across the city late Monday afternoon to support educators removed from classrooms and housed in so-called teacher jails while allegations of misconduct are investigated.

More then 50 UTLA members withstood chilly temperatures to protest outside the Educational Service Center in Van Nuys, one of four district offices where demonstrations were held. UTLA president Warren Fletcher led the crowd in chants of "End the lies!," then asked the group to spread the word in their own schools about how the Los Angeles Unified School District handles allegations of misconduct.

What used to be a system in which suspected teachers were investigated and reassigned, has become a long, drawn out process, with educators uncertain of what they are being accused of, Fletcher said.

"There are teachers, nurses and counselors being carted off," he said. "The system has been perverted."

There are 260 teachers currently being housed, said Sean Rossall, spokesman for the general counsel at LAUSD.

Under the system that many educators call "teacher jail," those accused of misconduct are housed in district offices while administrators investigate misconduct allegations. The process can drag on for months, with teachers collecting their full pay -- an average of $6,000 a month, plus benefits -- until they're returned to work or fired.

The district has taken a strict approach because of last year's sex abuse scandals at Miramonte and Telfair elementary schools, which prompted a spike in complaints. The district also enacted a zero-tolerance policy for abuse, and dozens of teachers have been fired as a result.

"Anytime we receive a credible allegation for misconduct, we allow law enforcement to conduct their investigation, and from there we conduct the administrative investigation," Rossall said. "The issue is anytime there is an allegation, we're going to err on the side of the students."

In April, a proposal to streamline the process passed the school board. The proposal, made by board member Tamar Galatzan, would take investigations of alleged physical or sexual abuse away from principals and into the hands of professionals. Teachers also have to be told why they're being pulled from classrooms.

But UTLA members complained that the process is stagnant and said the process itself is unfair.

An online team of professional investigators is expected to be up and running by the end of January, Rossall said. ___

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