In this file photo from 2003, Rafe Esquith teaches his fifth-grade class at Hobart Elementary School. (Jonathan Alcorn/For The Washington Post)

Los Angeles schools superintendent Ramon C. Cortines e-mailed me Monday night with a reaction to my latest column on the wide-ranging investigation of award-winning fifth-grade teacher Rafe Esquith. I have argued that the L.A. school district has been persecuting Esquith, who I consider to be one of the nation’s best teachers, for a comment he made to students that was misunderstood. (You can read the column here). Here is what Cortines said in response, and below that a further comment from Esquith’s attorney:

Mr. Mathews,

I was disappointed to read your latest column on Hobart Elementary School teacher Rafe Esquith.

While we respect that Mr. Esquith is extremely popular and agree that investigations should be completed in a timely matter, nothing and I mean nothing, will stand in the way of making sure our students and school communities are safe. We also take seriously our obligation to ensure that our employees behave ethically.

This investigation is not merely about an off-colored joke made in the classroom. It has become far more complex than that. Our investigators go where the information takes them. Ultimately, we owe it to our students and our community to take any allegation against an adult seriously. We are also mindful of the need for confidentiality on all sides of an issue. To imply that the LAUSD should rush its investigation just because someone is well-liked, or is a celebrity, is simply ridiculous. Our request that Mr. Esquith voluntarily turn over information is aimed at expediting the ethics aspect of the investigation.

From the outside looking in, you may believe you know what is right. I can assure you, we know what is right for our students. When it comes to student safety, we are going to choose students over adults every single time.

Thank you,

Ramon C. Cortines


Office of the Superintendent

Los Angeles Unified School District

And here is a response from Esquith’s attorney, Ben Meiselas:

As we stated in our letter responding to LAUSD/Sedgwick law firm, Superintendent Cortines and his minions have declared war on public education and public school teachers. There is a reason hundreds of teachers have reached out to our law firm, with identical issues to Rafe, who were previously silenced, most nearing retirement age. This is the height of corruption and an LAUSD administration gone delusional with power and a regime that is anti-teacher. It is especially shocking to hear this from a superintendent currently embroiled in his own sexual harassment scandal and multiple audit and public corruption scandals. Superintendent Cortines would fail the McCarthy witch-hunts he now leads in 30 seconds. Shame, shame on Superintendent Cortines.

Jay Mathews