JUST IN: LAUSD says Esquith case involves sex photos, 'touching'
Lawyers for LA Unified today told the attorney representing acclaimed teacher, Rafe Esquith, that the investigation into his background has found evidence of "highly inappropriate conduct involving touching of minors" during his time as a district teacher as well as "inappropriate photographs and videos of a sexual nature" on his school computer.
The letter to Esquith's lawyer, Mark Geragos, also claims that investigators found allegations of "threats to a parent and two students" and "possible ethical" violations of district policy regarding Esquith's after-school program, the Hobart Shakespeareans.
The original complaint against Esquith focused on his reading of a passage from "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" to his class, financial issues regarding the Shakespeareans and a report from decades ago that he abused a student.
Esquith has been relieved of his teaching responsibilities while the investigation continues. The district said it "has a duty to thoroughly investigate these allegations before making any decisions to return Mr. Esquith to his classroom, and it takes this duty very seriously."
The district's letter to Geragos was sent within hours of Geragos' announcing that he filed a class action lawsuit against the district — a lawsuit that claims to represent several hundred district teachers — over the nature of the so-called teacher jail system. The lawsuit claims such a policy represents an unfair business practices and retaliation.
Teachers like Esquith facing allegations by students or other teachers are taken out of their classrooms and housed during their work day in a downtown location, sometimes for months, while an investigation is underway.
In particular, the class action cites "intentional infliction of emotional distress" against Esquith, who was hospitalized with "stress-induced thrombosis."
The letter to Geragos came in response to letters from Esquith's lawyers, accusing the district of engaging in a witch hunt against their client and threatening to file the class action lawsuit. Esquith claimed that the district actions against him violated Federal and state due process laws.
The district lawyers said they were rejecting those accusations "because while it was investigating the original allegations made against him, additional serious allegations of misconduct by Mr. Esquith came to light."
The class action lawsuit also said that LAUSD officials confiscated more than $100,000 worth of music instruments and books from Esquith's classroom at Hobart Boulevard Elementary School as well as a Medal of Arts presented to him by President Obama.
"Why would they come to raid his classroom?" said Ben Meiselas one of Esquith's lawyers. "Why would they take his Medal of Arts? That is theft."
A district spokeswoman, Monica Carazo, said, "Yes, items were removed from the classroom because the Office of Environmental Health and Safety issued a corrective action notice to the school in order to be in compliance with our health and safety rules/guidelines and the school took those necessary actions. As for his National Medal of Arts, I am not aware of its removal."
Meiselas said the law firm is also planning to file a federal class action lawsuit against LA Unified and a defamation lawsuit against the Sedgwick law firm, which is representing LAUSD in the case. Meiselas said several hundred teachers have contacted him about similar treatment that Esquith faced.
"This is a systematic violation of due process that we have heard over and over from teachers," Meiselas said. "When you hear the same crazy story 12 times a day from teachers, then that is a problem. It is shocking what is going on at LAUSD."