Esquith fired: Is it a witch hunt?

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.

Until April, author and teacher Rafe Esquith taught Shakespeare to fifth graders in a mostly Latino and Korean neighborhood in Los Angeles. Photo: Beatrice de Gea, Los Angeles Times

Until he was removed from the classroom in April, award-winning teacher Rafe Esquith taught Shakespeare to fifth graders in a mostly Latino and Korean neighborhood in Los Angeles. Photo: Beatrice de Gea, Los Angeles Times

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.

 It’s a “witch hunt” against an outstanding teacher, writes Jay Mathews in his Washington Post column. The charges are “fuzzy.”

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.

In a legal claim, the teacher’s lawyers attack the district’s policy of expanding a misconduct charge against a teacher into a wider investigation, writes Craig Clough on LA School Report.

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.”

Untouchable students

Should Teachers be Allowed to Touch Students? asks Jessica Lahey. She teaches English and writing at an inpatient drug and alcohol rehabilitation facility. “Many of my adolescent students have endured sexual and physical abuse,” she writes.

Schools are adopting no-touching policies for their students. Teachers fear a pat on the shoulder could be seen as aggressive or sexual or . . . who knows?

Touch can built trust, says David J. Linden, a Johns Hopkins neuroscience professor, is the author of a new book, Touch: The Science of Hand, Heart, and Mind. “More than anything else, what touch conveys is ‘I’m an ally, I’m not a threat.”

However, context determines how touch is perceived, Linden told Lahey.

An arm thrown over your shoulders by a domineering boss is perceived very differently than an arm thrown around your shoulders by a trusted friend, for example.

“Appropriate social touch in school is vitally important to children who do not experience it at home, or for children who are abused,”says Linden. “It’s important for kids to realize that there is a role for social touching that isn’t abuse, that’s simply a normal and healthy means of bonding with other human beings.”

When I started tutoring school kids, I had to pay to be fingerprinted and prove I’m not on the state’s data base of sex offenders. I decided not to touch a child on the arm or shoulder, not to hug.

Suspended at 6 for ‘sexual misbehavior’

How apraxia got my son suspended from school is a horror story:  School bureaucrats became convinced that a first grader with an “invisible disability” was a victim of sexual abuse or a predator because he rocks when stressed.  

Apraxia is a movement and coordination disorder affecting about 5 percent of children, but it’s often missed or misunderstood, writes Michael Grazianao, the boy’s father and a professor of neuroscience at Princeton.

People look at apraxia sufferers and see a clumsy child who won’t try hard enough, a child who must not be very bright because he can’t keep up in math and reading, or a disobedient child who won’t stop moving in weird ways and bumping into people.

Handwriting is stressful for his son because of his disability. That struggle was affecting his reading and math. Unable to get any help from the school, the parents paid for an occupational therapist to help with coordination problems and a psychiatrist to help their son cope with classroom anxiety.

When the six-year-old began rocking to calm himself in class, his teacher decided he was masturbating. The principal, who didn’t know about the movement disorder and didn’t ask, reported the family to a state agency for possible child abuse.

Our son’s psychotherapist wrote a letter to the school to tell them about his classroom anxiety. Our son’s pediatrician also wrote a letter to the school telling them that he saw no medical evidence of any abuse. These experts asked the school to intervene with a step-by-step behavioural plan to help our son’s classroom difficulties. Under federal law, he was entitled to what’s called a 504 plan, in reference to Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which is meant to ensure that disabled children have full access to education, but the school refused.

After a monthlong investigation, the parents were cleared of abuse charges. The state investigator told the principal in person. Within hours, the first grader was suspended on charges of sexual assault. Playing “Zombies” after lunch, he‘d hugged a friend.

The parents took the district to court.

The principal’s written testimony included a set of classroom notes about our child to show how he willfully misbehaved. Strangely enough, the school had given us an alternative version of this document about a month earlier, which we still had. . . .  The version that was submitted to court as sworn testimony offers a noticeably different account, including several additional sentences that make our son’s conduct sound willful and sexual. It looks to me very much as though somebody in the district was willing to lie in court and falsify documents in order to damage a child.

According to the written testimony of the principal, the psychiatrist supported her claim that our son was sexually assaultive and a danger to others. . . . (The psychiatrist) wrote a letter . . . noting that he thought our child was not sexually assaultive, not a danger to others, and should never have been suspended from school.

The judge ruled for the parents, but there were no consequences for school officials who denied special education services, lied or forged evidence.

The Grazianos’ son moved to a new elementary school. The school psychologist talked to him about his stress and set up a reward system for good class work. “Within a few days, the rocking stopped.”

Graziano urges other parents to fight for their kids’ needs, but admits that he and his wife barely saved their son, despite money, leverage and “degrees in neuroscience, psychiatry, and psychology.”

Via Instapundit, who thinks responsible parents should not entrust their children to the public schools. (The Grazianos believe strongly in public schools, despite their ordeal.)

If you can’t fire a child molester …

California Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a bill that was supposed to make it easier to fire teachers charged with molesting students. It would “create new problems,” Brown said in his veto message.

The union-backed bill made it easier for abusive teachers to stall the dismissal process and force districts to settle, charges Larry Sand City Journal. A retired teacher, Sand is president of the California Teachers Empowerment Network.

Mark Berndt, a Los Angeles teacher charged with 23 counts of  “lewd acts” against first-graders, was paid to resign.

Last year, district officials agreed to pay him more than $40,000 to resign in lieu of exercising his “due process rights,” which could have dragged out his termination for months or possibly years—while he continued to collect a salary and accrue pension benefits—through a series of contractually mandated hearings and appeals. This past March, the district announced that it would pay $30 million to the parents of 61 of Berndt’s former students.

In response to the Berndt case, a bill was proposed to let districts suspend teachers credibly charged with abusing students. The state teachers’ unions blocked it.

“The influence of the California Teachers Association was rarely more apparent—or more sickening, editorialized the San Francisco Chronicle. “The union showed its willingness to defend an expensive and cumbersome process for firing bad teachers at almost any cost – even if that means school districts must continue to spend exorbitant sums of time and money to dismiss teachers in cases involving sex, drugs or violence with students.”

Loving to hate the ‘bad teacher’

“Bad” teachers are hot, writes Dana Goldstein. “The bad teacher has also become an overhyped target for our national anxiety about public education.”

In Alissa Nutting’s new novel, Tampa, a Florida middle-school teacher lures two eighth-grade boys into sexual relationships.

(Celeste) Price is a coldhearted nymphomaniac who, after feeding her sexual needs, wishes for the deaths of her victims. She is based on Debra Lafave, a real-life Tampa pedophiliac teacher — and former high school classmate of Nutting’s — who avoided jail time after her lawyer argued that she was too beautiful to get locked up.

. . . Though the writing in Tampa is pedestrian in comparison with Nabokov’s Lolita, the great classic on which it is based, it certainly represents a gutsy attempt by a young, female author to embody a wholly unsympathetic female narrator and probe the question of whether society lets women essentially get away with crimes for which men are excoriated.

Sexually abusive teachers exist, but they’re very rare, Goldstein points out.

Price, who’s depicted as a lousy teacher, has one ally, “an obese, ‘joyless’ woman who seems to hate children and eventually loses her job after cursing out students and throwing a chair,” Goldstein observes. Although most of the action takes place in a school, Tampa portrays no competent teachers.

The Cameron Diaz movie, Bad Teacher, will become a TV series about a “former trophy wife who masquerades as a teacher” to find a new sugar daddy.  (Who looks for a wealthy husband in a school?)  It’s a “vote of no confidence” in teachers, writes Lisa Suhay on Christian Science Monitor.

The premise, which plays to every possible negative stereotype of educators and women, may make the grade with network executives, but it will set up middle- and high-school teachers for failure in the eyes of students who watch the show.

The movie teachers that “being a narcissistic, sadistic, incompetent teacher is cool” and “bullying is funny,” writes Suhay. Also, “competent teachers are socially inept, overweight, clueless, and timid.”

A sequel to the movie, Bad Teacher 2, is in the works.

Principal guilty for not reporting teachers’ abuse

Craig Chandler, 35, is awaiting trial on charges of committing lewd and lascivious acts on five students at a San Jose elementary school where he taught second grade. His semen was found on a classroom chair.

Monday, a jury convicted the principal of failing to report suspected child abuse, reports the San Jose Mercury News.

Principal Lyn Vijayendran listened to a second-grade girl’s story: The teacher had called her into an empty classroom, blindfolded her, told her to lie on the floor and open her legs, touched her feet with something that felt like a tongue, inserted something gooey in her mouth and then wiggled her head around until she tasted a salty liquid.

Instead of calling police, the principal called a district personnel administrator, who suggested questioning the teacher. Chandler said he was preparing for a “Helen Keller” lesson. Vijayendran believed him. The parent accepted the explanation.

Three months later, a parent told police Chandler had molested another second grader in the same fashion.

Juror Kathy Eriksen called the case “tragic,” but said the verdict was “absolutely necessary” to ensure educators, coaches and other mandated reporters don’t shirk their obligation.

. . . Juror Susan LaGaffa said the incident was obviously sexual and the teacher’s explanation ludicrous.

“I think she didn’t want this ugly thing to be true,” LaGaffa said. “But when you have responsibility for hundreds of children, you can’t afford to drop the ball.”

Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Deborah Ryan immediately sentenced Vijayendran on the misdemeanor charge, giving her two years of probation and 100 hours of community service. The former principal, now working in the district office, can meet her service hours by training educators to comply with California’s mandated-reporter law.

The human resources director wasn’t charged because she’s not a mandatory reporter.

Union blocks bill on firing ‘predator’ teachers

Awaiting trial for sexual abusing fifth-grade students, a Los Angeles teacher was paid $40,000 to take early retirement. A bill to make it easier and faster to fire teachers for crimes involving sex, drugs or violence stalled after the teachers’ union came out against it. Assembly Democrats receiving heavy teachers’ union contributions abstained in a committee vote, the equivalent of  “no” without the accountability, reports Anderson Cooper.

Here’s the Los Angeles Times on teachers’ union clout in California.

Who decides who’s a ‘predator’ teacher?

“Predator teachers” don’t belong in the classroom, writes Arthur Goldstein in SchoolBook. But who decides who’s a predator?

Sensational headlines blare that teacher unions “go to bat” for sexual predators, he writes.

. . . I don’t accept that someone is a sexual predator simply because Michael Bloomberg, Dennis Walcott,  Campbell Brown or some Astroturf group like StudentsFirstNY says so.

Goldstein knows a “trumped up” case against a teacher who’s been dragged through the tabloids. He’s dubious about changing the law to let the chancellor fire teachers despite the rulings of independent arbitrators.

Not every teacher accused of impropriety is guilty.

Fatherless boys, easy prey

Perhaps the saddest testimony in Jerry Sandusky’s trial came when Victim 6, a fatherless boy like all the other victims, said he’d sent a Father’s Day message to his molester three years ago.

The Penn State coach used his charity to find boys who craved a father figure. He showered them with attention and gifts. Then he showered with them.

Victim 3 explained why he didn’t complain about the sexual abuse.

“He made me feel like I was part of something, part of a family, giving me things that I didn’t have before.”

When he was placed in a foster home, he was enraged that Sandusky never tried to contact him.

Sandusky is utterly vile. But let’s not forget the men who abandoned these boys, making them easy prey for a pedophile.

Teens fight self-abuse charges

Threatened with child molesting charges for a bra-clad slumber-party photo of herself that showed up on a cellphone, a high school cheerleader refused to cop a plea. Along with two other girls, she’s filed suit against the overzealous prosecutor.

Marissa Miller and two other Tunkhannock, Pa., high school students say a prosecutor retaliated when they rejected his deal in a case over cellphone photos he called “provocative.”

. . . (The photo) showed Marissa and a friend from the waist up. Both were wearing bras.

(Prosecutor) Skumanick said he considered the photo “provocative” enough to tell Marissa and the friend, Grace Kelly, that if they did not attend a 10-hour class dealing with pornography and sexual violence, he was considering filing a charge of sexual abuse of a minor against both girls. If convicted, they could serve time in prison and would probably have to register as sex offenders.

Seventeen other students took the deal.

Criminalizing adolescent folly is nuts. Is there no sexual violence, abuse of minors or kiddie porn in Tunkhannock?

Meanwhile, in Britain, an 18-year-old boy painted an Iron Age fertility symbol with a 60-foot phallus on the new roof of his parents £1million house, reports the Daily Mail. He was hoping it would show up on Google Earth. No prosecution is planned. Just a new paint job.