Former “teacher of the year” Rafe Esquith was fired by the Los Angeles school board on charges of inappropriately touching minors, reports the Los Angeles Times.
In a letter to Esquith’s attorneys in August, district officials said they were investigating claims of “inappropriate” touching and “inappropriate” photos and videos of a “sexual nature” on his computer.
Charges also include mishandling his nonprofit, which funds his fifth-grade students’ annual Shakespeare play and field trips, giving food to students without parental permission and improper handling of permission slips.
Esquith, 61, refused to defend himself at a hearing. Instead he’s filed a $1 billion class-action lawsuit charging Los Angeles Unified conducts “witch hunts” against older teachers in a “shrewd” effort to save money on retirement benefits.
The dishonest nature of the Esquith investigation is clear from the fact it did not begin until a state commission ruled against the district on a silly complaint that he had somehow offended students and others with a mild joke involving a reference to nudity. I think the district investigators decided they were not going to let this celebrity teacher — countless awards, four intriguing books and movie star supporters — show them up.
I’m less confident that Esquith couldn’t possibly be guilty, but the charges are fuzzy. What does “inappropriate” mean?
In 2006, a man charged Esquith with abusing him at a summer camp in the 1970s, when the accuser was eight or nine and Esquith was a college student. The district says Los Angeles police were notified. Nothing happened then. Now, Esquith says investigators asked him if he’d been warned 40 years earlier about “pushing” a child.
“Even when a teacher has been cleared by a police or legal investigation, the district will investigate the teacher for any possible violations of district policy,” Jose Cantu, who supervises the Student Safety Investigative Team, told LA School Report.
The unit was created to investigate sexual abuse allegations “in the aftermath of the Miramonte Elementary sex abuse scandal, which has so far cost LA Unified roughly $170 million in settlements.”