- (AUTHOR’S NOTE: This post was originally published on March 31, 2013. Since then, much has happened. Please see the end of this post.)
On January 15, 2013, Randy Traweek — a distinguished veteran teacher employed by the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) — stood in front of LAUSD’s Board of Education and said, “LAUSD is now the Soviet Union of public education.” Traweek was protesting a zero-tolerance policy on child abuse implemented by LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy in 2012. Traweek decried the injustices of this policy, which he alleged to include the psychological abuse, unfair accusation, and de facto imprisonment of teachers, with nothing resembling due process. Board President Monica Garcia asked Deasy, “How long has this been happening?” Deasy replied that for more than fifteen years, it had been district policy “…that when an individual is accused of an egregious act, like molesting a child or being arrested for prostitution… then they are housed while there is an investigation.”
What Dr. Deasy failed to mention is that, in the years before he became LAUSD Superintendent, only one or two dozen teachers and administrators a year were “housed.” But according to “Brian,” an activist teacher who is now being housed:
Currently, there are over 300 teachers housed at any one time. When they terminate 20-30, then they bring in another 20-30 and terminate them, then repeat the process. I have seen 6 different rotations of 20 brought into the room in ESC [Educational Service Center] North since August. Over 600 teachers district-wide have been victims of this system since August of 2012. The real horror is that once the teacher has spent 3-5-7-9 months in the room they are terminated and the new ones that come in do not know anything about the process.
Deasy also failed to mention that most of the “egregious acts” that get teachers in trouble are — in many cases — for doing what any good parent would do: hug a child, say “I love you,” or break up a fight. Several “housed” teachers told me that they were “rubber roomed” for protecting their students from violent classmates. In one such case, a student – let’s call him “Bruce” – accused his teacher (let’s call him “Mr. Adams”) of physical abuse. Bruce is a well-known bully and trouble-maker at the school, frequently disrupting classes and intimidating fellow students. Bruce was on top of another student and beating him when Adams pulled him off by his shirt sleeve. According to Bruce’s parents, Mr. Adams roughly grabbed him and manhandled their child. For that allegation, Mr. Adams was “removed and investigated.” Even though a police investigation found nothing, Adams spent months in a “rubber room” at an administrative office while a substitute taught his class. During that time, Bruce was heard by his classmates to boast that he “got rid of” Mr. Adams.
Another teacher who taught teenaged dropouts was accused of telling his students, “I love you,” and hugging them. Let’s call this teacher “Dave.” Near Dave’s desk were Post-It notes from his students, in ghetto-type language, expressing their affection for Dave. (At graduations, graduating seniors frequently thanked Dave, to loud cheers from their classmates.) Dave told me that his love for his students was the main reason for his success and for his continuing to do what would many would find to be a thankless, or even impossible job. Many of his students come from troubled or broken homes, and the hugs and kinds words they got from Dave were the closest thing to parental affection they had ever received.
Dave was later exonerated of child abuse charges, because no student had complained; apparently his supervisor was the only person making allegations against him. However, according to Brian — the housed activist teacher — an overwhelming majority of housed teachers are terminated.
John Deasy’s “rubber room” approach to teacher discipline first reached public awareness when the child-abuse scandal erupted at Miramonte Elementary School early in 2012. Deasy “removed and investigated” the entire 169-member staff of the school, including teachers, janitors, office workers and administrators, and brought in substitute or replacement staff while the 169 original employees were housed in a recently-constructed school that had not yet opened for business. Many of those are still awaiting LAUSD’s “verdict.”
As of this writing, in late April of 2013, four high-ranking LAUSD administrators have also been “housed.” (See below.)
History is replete with examples of draconian methods being employed for what must have seemed, at the time, like a good idea: the Spanish Inquisition; the Salem witch hunt; the forced relocation of native Americans to reservations; the internment of Japanese in the U.S.A. during World War II; Abu Graib Prison. History has, in each case, shown that these draconian methods usually: a) are cynically motivated and utilized; and b) bring shame upon those who employ them.
History will probably not be kind to Superintendent John Deasy. For now, shame is heaped on every teacher who is removed from his or her classroom and detained in a holding area while investigations proceed. The teacher’s reputation is stained forever, no matter what is found in the investigation, because in the public’s mind, he or she is a child abuser.
We need to protect innocent children, but when do we cross the line into a new form of abuse?
The current policy of zealous rubber-rooming creates the following problems:
- exorbitant cost: around $15,000,000 per year – at a time when many programs have been closed due to lack of funding
- disruption of instruction
- injustice to the teacher, which discourages many good teachers from being teachers at all
- encouraging the worst students to continue their worst behavior (including false accusations against teachers), while discouraging the best teachers from giving many students what they need: encouragement, affection, and protection from bullies.
History is also replete with examples of hysteria being triggered by child abuse, or even suspicions of child abuse, and causing innocent adults to be abused by our legal system. At least two of these examples happened in southern California: the McMartin Pre-School case, in which the McMartin family and their business were destroyed, despite their exoneration; and the Kern County child abuse cases of the 1980s. In the latter, thirty-six people were convicted of being part of a child-abuse ring near Bakersfield, California, and most of them spent more than a dozen years in prison. All but two of those convictions were later overturned, as the “abused” children, now adults, recanted testimony that was often scripted, coached and/or coerced by overzealous social workers and the Kern County Sheriff’s Department; two died in prison before they could clear their names.
To use an analogy from medical science, LAUSD’s current policy of housing and investigating teachers for the slightest hint or allegation of child abuse is like treating every tumor, no matter how benign, with aggressive cancer treatment: radical surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, and even amputation.
My mother used to sing a camp song with the lines: “Go get the axe, there’s a fly on baby’s head.” John Deasy, the guy with the axe, is hurting not only hundreds of innocent teachers and their families, but their students and the students’ families as well. He has caused other harm, which I shall address in future writing, but LAUSD’s Board of Education needs to stop the rubber-room madness, ASAP. The current policy hurts good teachers, wastes millions in scarce public-school funding, and teaches children and administrators to be more effective bullies and/or sociopaths.
1. In mid-April, the following article appearing in the local press about steps taken by LAUSD boardmember Tamar Galatzan to address some of the issues discussed in this post:
2. On April 25, 2013, the “rubber room” phenomenon touched administrators:
For your further edification:
1. The video of Randy Traweek in front of the Board of Education:
2. A good overview article in the Daily News:
3. A follow-up to the above on susanohanian.org, an activist blog:
4. Opinion posts from perdaily.com, another activist website: