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Teacher Jail

The narrative being repeated over and over by reformers is that powerful teachers' unions place the rights of their members over those of their students ("De Blasio's Union Payback," The Wall Street Journal, May 12). Therefore, drastic measures are needed to remedy this injustice.  I'd like to present the other side of the story as seen in the Los Angeles Unified School District, the nation's second largest ("Where Shame Is Policy: Inside LA's 'Teacher Jail,' " The Nation, May 19).

Teachers who are deemed undesirable for one reason or another are removed from the classroom and placed in "housed employee" locations, where they languish.  They are not officially told of the charges against them.  At present, there are about 450 teachers in this situation.  They sit facing a wall and are not supposed to talk, read or use the Internet.  Despite this outrageous situation, United Teachers Los Angeles is strangely mute.

I understand the need to immediately remove teachers from the classroom if they pose a danger to students.  But in the LAUSD, this is not always the case.  For example, an AP biology teacher with an impeccable record was placed in teacher jail for allowing two of his students to construct imitation weapons for a science fair.  Actually, these were versions of propulsion systems that have been used as model science projects in California. Another teacher found herself there for allegedly taking members of the school choir out of town without permission to perform in different venues, despite the fact that parents had given their written consent.

The policy of not charging teachers, but simply informing them that they are under investigation, has created a climate of fear that totally destroys morale.  Yet it is a highly effective strategy for maintaining control by top administrators.  The way UTLA has reacted - or more accurately not reacted - to this travesty means that teachers have no one to turn to.  Public opinion is certainly not on their side as a result of the sophisticated campaign to convince voters that privatization is the only solution.

I hasten to remind young teachers that the rights they take for granted were not given to them magnanimously by school districts.  They were won by teachers who went on strike under strong union leadership. 


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