After being taken out of his classroom for two months, a famous Los Angeles teacher, Rafe Esquith, is filing a claim against the L.A. Unified School District, a precursor to a lawsuit, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Esquith, a well-known fifth-grade teacher at Hobart Boulevard Elementary School, was removed from the classroom and put on paid leave by the school district in April while the district investigates him for misconduct. In an interview with the Times Monday, Esquith acknowledged that he made a joke to his class that prompted a complaint from another teacher — the joke was that if the class couldn’t raise enough money for their Shakespeare play then they might have to perform some of it naked, like the king in “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.”
When Esquith explained the context of the joke to the school principal, he was told not to worry but was nevertheless removed from the classroom in April, the Times reported.
Although district officials declined to provide details of the investigation, Superintendent Ramon Cortines told the Times that the inquiry includes “serious issues that go beyond the initial investigation.”
“We overreact to everything. That’s the American way, and I’m a victim of that overreaction,” Esquith told the Times. “I want to fix this system. I want to make sure that teachers do not have to go through the same thing that I went through.”
Esquith is represented by a high-profile attorney, Mark Geragos.
Esquith is well-known and renowned globally. He is the recipient of the president’s National Medal of Arts and is the only K-12 teacher to receive that award. Many of his books, such as “Teach Like Your Hair’s on Fire,” are bestsellers on how to teach kids.
Supporters of Esquith called the situation preposterous. “This is the way they treat one of the most famous and conscientious teachers in the country, who has worked 12-hour days for several decades, usually keeping his classroom open during summer, holidays and on some weekends,” Washington Post education columnist Jay Mathews wrote last week. “Hundreds of former students come to visit. He advises many of them on how to get into the best high schools and how to prepare for college.”
The L.A. Times noted that the school district is treating all complaints of misconduct seriously of late. L.A. Unified has dealt with multiple issues involving teachers and administrators accused of sexual misconduct with students recently, paying $139 million last year to victims in a case at Miramonte Elementary School where the teacher was allowed to stay in the classroom, the Times reported.
Cortines and L.A. Unified General Counsel David Holmquist are emphasizing the need for a thorough investigation.
On Monday Holmquist told the Times the school district would not sacrifice students’ safety or a thorough investigation simply because the public and employees want a quick resolution. “When it comes to student safety, we’re going to choose students over adults every time,” Holmquist said.