Internationally recognized and award-winning elementary school teacher Rafe Esquith has filed a $1 billion class-action lawsuit against the Los Angeles Unified School District, seeking an end to the “teacher jail.”
The suit, filed Thursday on behalf of some 2,000 teachers in the Los Angeles school district, alleges that the LAUSD removed some older teachers from the classrooms without clearly stated reasons. It also accused the district for sending teachers to the administrative office referred to as “teacher jail.” The teachers were not only prohibited from working, they also were deprived of half a million dollars in pension and health benefits by being forced to resign or being fired.
The controversial lawsuit comes on the heels of reports that the L.A. school board voted unanimously – and behind closed doors – to fire Esquith.
Earlier this year, the 61-year-old was pulled from his classroom at Hobart Elementary School – where he had taught for more than 30 years – after a colleague reported to the principal that the teacher had joked about nudity in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
The district placed him in the “teacher jail” and started a probe. The allegations soon grew to include financial mismanagement of his renowned nonprofit the Hobart Shakespeareans, sexual misconduct and inappropriate photographs and emails on his school computer.
Esquith denies all of the allegations. In fact, he has alleged that his story fits a pattern. Apparently, LAUSD occasionally removes teachers nearing retirement age from their classes and places them in temporary suspension, where they await the outcome of investigations that often lead to firings.
“They have what I would charitably call an investigative hit squad that goes out and basically intimidates and tries to extract statements from students that they then use for kangaroo-court style proceedings in order to get people to resign so that they don’t vest with their retirement benefits,” said attorney Mark Geragos.
The famed educator is known for his best-seller Teach Like Your Hair’s on Fire: The Methods and Madness Inside Room 56, and is the only K-12 teacher to be awarded the president’s National Medal of the Arts. Moreover, Queen Elizabeth has made him a member of the British Empire, and the Dalai Lama gave him the Compassion in Action Award.
Although Esquith has won several other awards during his career, he is best known and appreciated for a Shakespeare program where all of his students, most of who belong to extremely poor households, appeared in at least one full-length production a year.