LAUSD sends ‘rubber room’ teachers home

LAUSD sends ‘rubber room’ teachers home

WELCOME BACK KOTTERThe Los Angeles Unified School District has decided to end one of its most controversial practices.

Instead of putting a damper on criticism, however, the move could intensify it.

Starting today, teachers under investigation will not be sent to detention in holding facilities known as “rubber rooms” or “teacher jails.” The LAUSD decision was made administratively, without the need for school board approval, according to LA School Report. Teachers will be permitted to go to their homes, where they must remain unless summoned as part of an investigation.

During school hours, they cannot leave their houses except in case of an emergency. And at the start and finish of their “shifts,” teachers must check in and check out. Nevertheless, the new rule offers a sweeping change of pace for investigated teachers, who had access to few amenities in the old facilities. 

For those advocating on behalf of investigated teachers, “rubber rooms” created a grim and dehumanizing environment. One inarguable point against putting teachers in their rooms, instead of suspending them without pay, is their cost.

In addition to the “rubber room” teachers’ continuing salaries, more than $800,000 was spent to supply substitutes, according to the Daily News. What’s more, almost $1.5 million went to pay for teacher investigations and for the salaries of the teachers under investigation.

The practice highlights a series of sore spots for public education in Los Angeles and, more broadly, in California. On the one hand, teachers guilty of firing offenses are detained for an extraordinarily long period of time — 127 days on average. On the other, the vast majority of accused teachers lose their jobs and benefits when their investigations concluded. Only about 20 percent leave “rubber rooms” and pick up where they left off.

Last year, that inspired a so-called “protest for justice.” Teachers held a vigil that placed more attention on the teachers under investigation than on the students allegedly abused by some of those teachers.

Statewide struggles

While no parent or administrator wants to see guilty teachers return to work, the system raises big questions about why the burden of such an inefficient process has been placed on taxpayers, investigators and the school district as a whole. On the policy front, there may soon be some answers.

Los Angeles is not alone in facing the problem, which has attracted statewide attention. One reform effort, Assembly Bill 375, was vetoed last year by Gov. Jerry Brown. The year before, a bill aimed at firing offending teachers more quickly was snuffed out. Senate Bill 1530 would have made it easier to get rid of teachers who abused students sexually, physically or with drugs. Thanks to intense lobbying and efforts by the California Teachers Association, the bill failed.

Unions and their critics, however, are now awaiting the outcome in the pending Vergara vs. California case. There, the plaintiffs allege union job protections for teachers are to blame for poor results among California students — especially minority students from lower-income families.

The Vergara case has divided California Democrats, who often find themselves pushed into uncomfortable positions by uncompromising teachers’ unions. In the race for California Superintendent of Public Instruction, for instance, the supporters of challenger Marshall Tuck portray incumbent Tom Torlakon as a creature of teachers’ unions whose bankroll ensures he opposes needed reform. Both Tuck and Torlakson are Democrats.

Pressure on unions

Amid the current contentious climate, teachers’ unions are likely to face continued scrutiny, inside and out. Last year, three teachers’ groups went so far as to vote to decertify the CTA, opting for independent representation.

With job protections heating up the election-year climate, “rubber room” reform could be seen in two competing ways. Teachers’ advocates will interpret LAUSD’s move as a much-needed change for the better.

But in the larger context of union opposition to education reform, objections likely will be raised to keeping investigated teachers on salary in the comfort of their own homes for months on end.

Tags assigned to this article:
LAUSDteachers unionsJames Poulosrubber rooms

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