The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

LAUSD’s “Teacher Jail”:
A Guantanamo for Teachers

Jul 7, 2014

Iris Stevenson, popular music teacher and director of Crenshaw High’s acclaimed choir, was pulled out of the classroom last December. For the rest of the school year she has been a “housed teacher,” ordered to sit in an empty room six hours a day, without being allowed to make contact with district employees – not even with her substitutes to give them lesson plans.

The purpose of this “teacher jail” is, supposedly, to ensure “student safety.” And how is this 30-year veteran teacher supposed to be a safety threat? She is said to have taken her choir on an “unauthorized trip” to Paris, France and Washington, D.C. – a ridiculous accusation, given that a trip like that, which even requires passports, can’t happen without the explicit consent of the students’ parents.

In fact, no one really knows what the exact accusation is, because Stevenson has not been charged formally yet, just like the 450 other L.A. teachers who languish at various teacher jail sites – a sort of Guantanamo on U.S. soil.

Obviously, the district’s self-appointed inquisitors can use this “investigation process” to get rid of teachers who stand up to district policies. Stevenson herself has opposed attempts to privatize her school in the past – like fellow Crenshaw teacher Michael Griffin, who spent more than a year in teacher jail before the district admitted there was no reason to keep him there.

This teacher jail can also be a convenient way for district administrators to “reduce costs.” Many of the detained teachers, especially those with high seniority, eventually agree to take early retirement in frustration – often forgoing some of their earned retirement benefits.

LAUSD, as other school districts, has had a consistent policy of replacing older teachers with younger, and lesser-paid, teachers – or not replacing them at all. And this policy has gone hand-in-hand with reckless attacks on teachers.

Protests by students, parents and black community organizations have not yet succeeded in bringing Stevenson back to Crenshaw. But that’s the only way to force district bosses to back up – those vicious district bosses, whose relentless policy of getting rid of teachers and increasing class size, is the real threat to the safety of students.