Response to the Audit
Los Angeles Unified School District
October 10, 2016
Elaine Howle, State Auditor
California State Auditor's Office
621 Capitol Mall, Suite 1200
Sacramento, CA 95819
Dear Ms. Howle:
The following is in response to the California State Auditor’s Office’s recommendations set forth in its recent report entitled “Los Angeles Unified School District – It can do more to reduce the impacts of removing teachers from classrooms because of alleged misconduct.” At the outset, allow me to express the appreciation of the Los Angeles Unified School District (“LAUSD”) for the cooperation and thoughtful exchange that ultimately led to your final report. It is apparent that your Office appreciates the important work that the LAUSD must do in order to ensure the safety of our students, while also balancing the rights of employees.
As part of our mission to ensure a quality education for students, the LAUSD not only strives for a 100 percent graduation rate, but also school environments in which our students are safe to learn. Our challenges are plenty, but our commitment to continuous growth and improvement is even greater. Over recent years, we endured events that revealed areas where we could do better in terms of protecting students. In response, we created a Student Safety Investigation Team (“SSIT”), developed a Certificated Performance Evaluation Support (“CPES”) team, created a legal team focused solely on the dismissal of employees who engage in misconduct or are otherwise poor performers, and implemented firm policies and procedures to support our efforts to ensure the safety and well-being of our students.
We appreciate that your findings and tone of your report encourage the LAUSD to continue these effective measures with an eye toward continuing to make improvements wherever possible. While student safety remains our foremost concern, an important part of providing a quality education for our students is remaining an employer of choice – one that cares for employees and treats all with respect. To that end, we aspire to ensure that all misconduct allegations that result in employees being temporarily removed from the workplace are investigated promptly, diligently, and in a manner that balances all important interests and rights involved.
RESPONSE TO RECOMMENDATIONS
With the foregoing in mind, the LAUSD responds to the recommendations set forth in your final draft report below.
1. Establish procedures to periodically monitor each key decision point throughout the reassignment process to ensure compliance with time frames.
Currently, the LAUSD has in place an electronic system that tracks reassigned employees and their cases. A regular report is shared with senior staff on a need to know basis. The system allows the LAUSD to track the status of all cases, including at what stage in the decision making process the case resides. The LAUSD is also prepared to deploy an even more comprehensive system entitled “CASE,” which will assist the LAUSD in its diligence. As part of its next revision to its bulletin governing reassignment procedures, the LAUSD agrees that it would be beneficial to highlight the capabilities of these systems in periodic tracking and implement best practices to ensure compliance with our goals regarding ideal time frames.
2. Develop written procedures to guide staff in appropriate placement options.
Currently, the LAUSD convenes a regular meeting to discuss employee reassignment in cases where reassignment is appropriate. The attendees are those best positioned to ensure the safety of students, as well as the rights of employees, when making the reassignment. The LAUSD agrees to update its relevant bulletin and practices to ensure that the parties continue to convene in a timely fashion, monitor the length of reassignment cases, and make the most sensible and timely reassignments as appropriate.
3. Develop a comprehensive risk evaluation tool to guide local administrators in deciding when employees present a risk to students or personnel.
The LAUSD believes that trained administrators are in the best position to evaluate risk at their school sites. Our professional administrators know their school environment, know their students and families, and know their staff. While the LAUSD should continue to rely on the best judgment of its trained educators, it certainly can provide guidance in the form of a checklist within the relevant bulletin. It is our hope that such a checklist will assist administrators in considering all factors in order to arrive at the most sensible decision regarding removing an employee from the school site. Again, the LAUSD is committed to student safety and we appreciate any and all measures that will assist in that effort.
4. Revise LAUSD policy to allow administrators additional time to complete initial investigations and possibly avoid formal reassignments.
The LAUSD agrees that this recommendation makes sense. It is important to allow sufficient time at the outset so that the correct decision is made regarding formal reassignment. The LAUSD is aware that formal reassignment presents expense and may greatly impact employee morale, even if the employee remains in paid status through formal investigation. Allowing more time for administrators to make the best initial decision will certainly minimize the likelihood that employees are unnecessarily removed from the classroom. The LAUSD will survey administrators to identify a more appropriate initial time frame and amend its relevant bulletins and procedures accordingly.
5. Develop procedures to periodically review the documents the LAUSD has begun collecting under its May 2016 policy revision and ensure consistency with policy.
The LAUSD recently revised its reassignment bulletin to include attached documents designed to guide administrators through the reassignment process. In addition to the suggested bulletin amendments discussed in the report, the LAUSD will implement a centralized review of the attachments so that information inconsistent with the reassignment policy is more efficiently identified and addressed.
6. Revise language in standard reassignment documents to ensure employees are clearly informed of their right to voluntarily pursue professional development.
As discussed throughout the audit process, the LAUSD does not deny any reassigned employee the right to pursue voluntary professional development. Complications regarding mandatory professional development were discussed, however. The LAUSD agrees to ensure that employees are aware of their right to pursue professional development and this point will be covered in the upcoming revision to the relevant bulletin. The LAUSD will continue conversations with labor partners to support this effort as well.
7. Formalize LAUSD’s recent practice of reviewing substitute teacher assignments in its Smart Find system on a weekly basis and review assignments to ensure it includes all substitute assignments.
The parties discussed how substitute teachers are called and utilized throughout the reassignment process. The LAUSD agrees that complete tracking of the use of substitutes is in its best interest, as such use is an unfortunate but necessary expense associated with ensuring student safety. The LAUSD will work through its Human Resources/Employee Relations and related departments to ensure timely and accurate information through routine reviews.
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It has been a pleasure working with the State Auditor’s Office on these important matters. We look forward to implementing your recommendations in order to enhance our efforts to educate our students in the safest environment possible. Thank you for your cooperation and assistance.
Please contact the undersigned at (213) 241-7600 if you have any questions or concerns.
Kathleen E. Collins
Chief Administrative Law & Litigation Counsel
CC: Michelle King
CALIFORNIA STATE AUDITOR’S COMMENTS ON THE RESPONSE FROM THE LOS ANGELES UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT
To provide clarity and perspective, we are commenting on the response to our audit report from the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). The numbers below correspond to the numbers we have placed in the margin of LAUSD’s response.
We acknowledge that LAUSD has an Incident Reporting System Database (database). However, as we discuss here, LAUSD does not use this database to comprehensively track and report on the time it takes relevant LAUSD staff to investigate cases, reach disciplinary decisions, or to return a teacher to the classroom. As we state here, although the database keeps historical records of the data entered into the system, the database is only programmed to report on the responsible party at a particular point in time. Further, our review indicates that LAUSD does not currently have effective processes to prevent unnecessary delays nor has it used historical data to identify which steps in the process are contributing to delays so it can take corrective action. Therefore, part of our recommendation is that LAUSD establish procedures to periodically monitor each key decision point throughout the reassignment process to ensure that responsible parties meet the time frames LAUSD has set for resolving teacher reassignments.
Although we agree with LAUSD’s plan to update its relevant bulletin and practices, we disagree with LAUSD’s comment that indicates that parties were convening in a timely fashion. Our review of 15 teacher reassignment cases that had been open for two or more years identified significant delays in LAUSD returning teachers to work after approval to do so. As we state here, in several cases delays in placing teachers back in classrooms were compounded by months-long periods between the decision that the teacher would not be dismissed and when applicable LAUSD staff met with the teacher concerning a placement. Our recommendation that LAUSD develop written procedures to guide staff in identifying appropriate placement options, including time frames by which relevant personnel are to meet with one another and with returning teachers who have been reassigned for a long time, is critical to ensure it avoids significant delays in returning reassigned teachers to work.
Our recommendation leaves it to LAUSD’s discretion to determine the specific design of the risk assessment tool that would best assist local administrators in reaching appropriate and consistent reassignment decisions. However, we emphasize that the tool—whether based on a checklist or another format—should contain specific factors of consideration that may exacerbate or mitigate risk, such as a teacher’s prior behavior and the vulnerability of affected students, as we discuss here. On that page we also state that the tool should be designed in a way that documents the local administrator’s reasoning when making the decision. This would enable LAUSD administrators to review the reasoning to help ensure consistent reassignment decisions districtwide and would maintain a decisive record of the reasons for those decisions.
We are pleased that LAUSD agrees that allowing more time for local administrators to complete their initial assessments may in some cases prevent unnecessary formal reassignments. However, LAUSD’s response indicates that it may have misunderstood our recommendation. Specifically, LAUSD states that it will survey administrators to identify a more appropriate initial time frame and amend its relevant bulletins and procedures. However, as we discuss here, LAUSD’s data indicate that in many cases five days is enough time for the local administrators to complete the preliminary assessment. Additionally, our review of 10 preliminary assessments in which teachers were subsequently returned to classrooms included cases in which local administrators determined the allegations were unfounded and cases in which they concluded that misconduct occurred but did not indicate a need to formally reassign the teacher. This lends support to the idea that LAUSD should continue to generally hold local administrators to the current policy time frame of five days.
Our recommendation is for LAUSD to revise its policy to allow local administrators, in certain circumstances and with sufficient justification, to request small, specific additional amounts of time to complete the preliminary assessment and possibly avoid formal reassignments. We specify in the recommendation that when it grants additional time to a local administrator, LAUSD should continue to closely monitor the local administrator’s activities until the preliminary assessment is complete. In this way, LAUSD can provide limited flexibility that would help minimize the number of formal reassignment investigations it must complete without allowing preliminary assessments to carry on for unreasonable periods of time.