Inside the world of LA’s ‘Teacher Jail’

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teacherjailEarlier this week, Los Angeles Unified School District teachers rallied to protest what they call “teacher jail.” These are the places LAUSD instructors and other school staff are sent when they’re accused of some sort of classroom misconduct and are under investigation by school authorities and law enforcement. That inappropriate conduct can range from yelling at a student to sexual abuse.

Currently there are 260 people in LAUSD teacher jails, which are located at the district’s regional administrative offices. The jails don’t have bars, guards or alarms. They’re usually very ordinary office spaces, where teachers are sent to check in daily and sit in cubicles for hours at a time.

While in teacher jail, instructors are supposed to spend their time studying ways to be better teachers, such as reading educational journals and reviewing class coursework. However, the day-to-day reality can be very different. Often the instructors, who receive their full salaries while in teacher jail, read magazines and newspapers, play with their cell phones, gossip and knit. Little of it has to do with education.

The L.A. Unified has used teacher jail for years, but critics say the district is sending more teachers there than ever before. They contend that’s because  school officials were embarrassed when campus scandals came to light, like last year’s revelations of a teacher’s wide-ranging sexual abuse of students at Miramonte Elementary School.

The teachers say in the wake of Miramonte, and not to appear soft on abuse, too many innocent teachers are being sent to teacher jail as months-long investigations continue. The teachers also contend LAUSD investigators too often automatically side with with students and parents instead of instructors when there’s an allegation of teacher misbehavior, meaning the actual investigation is just an empty formality.

“I feel at times like we’re living in ‘Alice and Wonderland,’  verdict first, trial later,” says Scott Mandel, an LAUSD middle school instructor and official with United Teachers Los Angeles, the union representing teachers and other campus staff.

But L.A. Unified officials say school jail is indispensable when it comes to student safety and campus order. “We have a high duty, the highest of duty, to make sure are students are safe. And we are going to make sure that’s the most important thing we do in everything we do, says David Holmquist, the LAUSD’s General Counsel.

We go inside “teacher jail” below: