Jul 20, 2015
In March, Los Angeles school district officials removed Rafe Esquith, a fifth-grade teacher at Hobart Elementary, from the classroom. They sent him to the notorious “teacher jail” – a room in the district where teachers “under investigation” are “housed” for each school day, as the district officially calls the process.
District officials said Esquith made an inappropriate comment about nudity in class. It turned out they were referring to a joke Esquith had made, quoting from Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn about a naked king. Esquith told his students that if they couldn’t raise enough money for their annual Shakespeare play, “we will all have to play the role of the king in Huckleberry Finn.”
Not surprisingly, no student or parent ever complained. Officials said the complaint had come from another teacher, a technology coordinator who witnessed the joke.
Is that why Esquith was suspended? Really? What’s more likely is that Esquith’s bosses themselves didn’t like his joke about the district’s cuts!
When Esquith kept fighting to go back to the classroom, the district revealed “other issues.” Someone was accusing Esquith of molesting him as a child at a camp 40 years ago, district officials said. And they launched yet another “investigation,” this time targeting the finances of Hobart Shakespeareans, a theater group Esquith founded in 1989 – because of the district’s cuts to art programs!
Over the years, L.A. school district bosses have sent thousands of teachers to “teacher jail.” Most of them were eventually exonerated, but after months, and even years. Many never went back to their jobs.
Esquith’s lawyers said that the district has a pattern of targeting older, experienced teachers who typically have higher pay. Esquith certainly fits this profile, but there is something else Esquith did. He publicly criticized the district’s budget cuts.
This “teacher jail,” where teachers are sent for months without being even told why, is the district bosses’ terror regime against teachers. It can be, and is, used to attack teachers who try to organize and fight against the district’s endless cuts.