Hundreds of Los Angeles Unified School District teachers accused of misconduct are spending months in so-called "teacher jail," where teachers still collecting pay but often have nothing to do but read, blog or text.
The measure is the district's response to the sex-abuse scandal that rocked LAUSD earlier this year, when ex-Miramonte Elementary School teacher Mark Berndt was arrested following widespread accusations of sexual misconduct against 23 students. Berndt was accused of taping young students' mouths shut, blindfolding them and placing large cockroaches on their faces, among other allegations. The case led to the removal of Miramonte's entire staff to break "a culture of silence."
This fall a second teacher, Paul Chapel, was arrested and sentenced to jail for molesting students at Telfair Elementary School.
Since the scandals, LAUSD officials have enforced a zero-tolerance policy, placing nearly 300 teachers in "teacher jail" by reassigning them to office or administrative duty until investigations conclude. The move, the LA Daily News reports, is costing the district $856,000 for substitutes to fill vacancies in addition to a staggering $1.4 million monthly in regular teacher salaries.
In the last year and a half, the number of grounded teachers has more than doubled. That zero-tolerance policy is strict, pulling teachers from classrooms for even the most minor infractions -- such as grabbing a student's arm or peering down a student's blouse. One teacher claims she was placed in "teacher jail" for accidentally tapping a student's stomach, according to the Daily News.
LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy says that the cost of precaution is worth avoiding another large-scale scandal and protects students. But teachers call the process a witch hunt and a waste of resources.
"LAUSD is using the process to get rid of teachers they don't' like or don't want… when there's no reasonable belief… that any misconduct occurred," teachers union President Warren Fletcher told the Daily News.
The Los Angeles school district's methods of dealing with alleged teacher misconduct reflect a years-long controversial process in New York City schools. For years, the city used "rubber rooms" as paid reassignment centers for teachers waiting out disciplinary hearings. But in 2010, Mayor Michael Bloomberg denounced the centers as an "expensive abuse of tenure," putting an end to the practice of containing -- and paying -- teachers to sit and do nothing.
Still, a recent report reveals that the city is still paying accused teachers who have been removed from the classroom -- at a cost of $22 million this year alone.
In May, Bloomberg proposed a new state law that provides high-ranking, local school officials the ultimate decision on whether school employees involved in sex cases should be terminated.
"There is simply no reason that teachers accused of sexual misconduct should have greater job security than other city employees," the mayor said at the time. "The fact that they currently do is wrong; it is dangerous; it is indefensible."