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California State Auditor Report Number : 2016-103

Los Angeles Unified School District
It Can Do More to Reduce the Impacts of Removing Teachers From Classrooms Because of Alleged Misconduct



Summary

HIGHLIGHTS

Our review of the Los Angeles Unified School District’s (LAUSD) policies and practices for removing teachers from classrooms because of alleged misconduct revealed the following:


Results in Brief

The policy of the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) is to remove teachers from the classroom in response to credible allegations of misconduct that poses a clear threat to the safety of students, staff, or the workplace. LAUSD’s policy cites sexual misconduct and violence as examples of the types of misconduct that warrant this removal, known as reassignment. This policy is consistent with practices at other large California school districts we surveyed. Over the past five fiscal years, LAUSD has reassigned more than 600 credentialed teachers from classrooms for some period of time in response to allegations of misconduct. As of early June 2016, 104 of LAUSD’s approximately 27,000 credentialed teachers were reassigned. Reassigned teachers remain at home for the duration of their reassignment.

The costs of reassignment and the number of open reassignment cases have both declined over the last several years but remain substantial. During a reassignment, state law requires the school district to continue paying the teacher’s salary until the district acts to dismiss the teacher. During fiscal year 2015–16, LAUSD paid $12.6 million in salaries and benefits for credentialed teachers who were reassigned after allegations of misconduct. This amount represents a decrease from previous years and is the result of a trend toward smaller numbers of open reassignment cases. In addition to continuing to pay the teachers during a reassignment, the district pays for substitute teachers (substitutes) to replace the reassigned teachers. Although LAUSD does not specifically track salary costs for substitutes that replace reassigned teachers, we estimated that the cost of replacing reassigned teachers in fiscal year 2015–16 was at least $3.3 million. Again, this amount is lower than in the preceding years. However, recent trends in LAUSD’s resolution of reassignment cases suggest that case backlogs—and costs—could begin to rise again in coming years.

LAUSD has often exceeded the time frames specified for its reassignment and investigation process. LAUSD’s current policy for handling teacher reassignments, which took effect in August 2015, includes specific time frames for completing each phase of this process. For example, the policy gives administrators of operations at LAUSD’s six local districts (local administrators) five days to make a preliminary assessment as to whether to reassign a teacher, and our review found that they consistently met this time frame. However, LAUSD frequently exceeded each of its other process time frames, including those set for completing investigations of the allegations against reassigned teachers and for making decisions about whether to discipline those teachers. According to its policy, LAUSD’s goal for completing investigations of alleged employee misconduct is 90 workdays. As of June 2016, of the 21 reassignment cases we reviewed for compliance with time frames, the district had exceeded this goal for 10 investigations by a range of 25 to 60 workdays. LAUSD administrators also missed deadlines for deciding what discipline, if any, reassigned teachers should receive in four of the seven cases we reviewed that required such a decision.

LAUSD also currently does not sufficiently monitor or comprehensively track and report on whether it meets key time frames in its policy for resolving teacher reassignments. Its Incident Reporting System Database (database) allows staff to view a snapshot of the status of open reassignments, the division responsible for the current step in the process, and how long the cases have been with that group. However, although LAUSD maintains historical records for its reassignment cases, it has not used the data to determine how long reassignments have taken to move through the steps in the process or reported on its performance in resolving reassignment cases over time. LAUSD is in the process of implementing a new data system that will use this historical reporting and plans to begin using that system in late October 2016. LAUSD indicated to us that district staff use the database to track open reassignment cases as part of monitoring compliance with time frames in its reassignment policy, but our review indicates that any monitoring it has done was insufficient.

In some of the cases we reviewed, even after LAUSD had concluded its investigations and reached a decision to either return the teacher to the classroom or dismiss him or her, delays in subsequent activities contributed to additional months, and sometimes years, that reassignments remained open. The lengthiest of the open reassignments at the time of our review had remained open since May 2008. In some cases, delays of more than six months resulted from legal steps in the process, such as scheduling a legal hearing or appeal, delays that LAUSD cannot always fully control. However, in other cases, we found that LAUSD waited long periods—in one case nearly eight months—between deciding to dismiss a teacher and actually acting to do so. We also noted that the district took months or even years to return some teachers to the classroom after determining that they would not be dismissed. LAUSD lacks formal timelines for key steps, such as identifying placements and meeting with the returning teachers, which has contributed to delays that might have otherwise been avoided.

Further, LAUSD can take additional steps to ensure that its teacher reassignments are necessary. We reviewed 21 cases to evaluate whether the decisions of the local administrators complied with district policy to reassign teachers in response to a clear safety threat, and we determined that they generally did. However, in two instances, neither the case documentation nor the explanations of decision makers demonstrated a clear risk to safety. Additionally, some local administrators proactively considered how circumstances other than the nature of the misconduct, such as the age of the students affected, might compound or mitigate risk, but others did not indicate that they took these factors into account when deciding whether to reassign a teacher. In some cases, local administrators were unable to provide any documentation from the initial assessment period to support the reasons they gave us for their reassignment decisions. Increased training, guidance, and development of improved resources, such as a comprehensive risk evaluation tool for local administrators and other key personnel involved in the reassignment decision, would help ensure that local administrators use formal reassignment consistently and only when necessary.

In addition, certain aspects of LAUSD’s policy—specifically, its current time frame of five days by which local administrators must decide whether to formally reassign a teacher—may, in some cases, be contributing to overall delays in resolving teacher reassignments. LAUSD policy gives local administrators five workdays after temporarily removing a teacher from a classroom to decide whether to formally reassign him or her. If the administrators are unable to make this assessment within those five days, they are to reassign the teacher, at which point LAUSD’s Student Safety Investigation Team (Investigation Team) conducts an investigation. However, our review indicated that there may be some limited instances in which a short and specific extension of the five‑day time frame, along with close supervision by LAUSD, would allow for a more timely resolution to the allegation than would be obtained by referring the case to the Investigation Team.

Finally, we noted that LAUSD has allowed substitutes serving in place of reassigned teachers to remain in classrooms longer than permitted. State law and regulations prohibit certain substitutes from serving in the same classroom for more than 30 school days in a single year. Although LAUSD monitors assignments of substitutes for compliance with requirements, it has not always successfully prevented them from serving in classrooms longer than permitted. Specifically, we noted four instances in which substitutes were allowed to remain in classrooms from six to 160 days longer than state law and regulations allow. By allowing substitutes who do not meet the standards set in state law and regulations, LAUSD is further negatively affecting students whose instruction has already been interrupted by teacher reassignments.

Recommendations

To help reduce the impacts of removing teachers from classrooms because of alleged misconduct, LAUSD should take the following steps by April 2017:

To ensure that LAUSD is adequately monitoring compliance with key time frames of its reassignment policy, begin using its new database to report on how long reassignments have taken to move through the various steps in its policy or begin reporting on all key time frames by another means. LAUSD should also establish procedures to periodically monitor each key decision point throughout the reassignment process to ensure that responsible parties meet the time frames it has set for resolving teacher reassignments.

To avoid significant delays in returning reassigned teachers to work, develop written procedures to guide staff in identifying appropriate placement options.

To improve the consistency of its formal reassignments, develop a comprehensive risk evaluation tool to guide its local administrators in determining whether allegations against a teacher represent a clear risk to students or district personnel. LAUSD’s evaluation tool should consider factors such as a teacher’s prior behavior, the vulnerability of affected students, and the complexity of the allegations.

To minimize the number of reassignment investigations unnecessarily referred to its Investigation Team, revise its policy to allow local administrators, in certain circumstances, to request small, specific additional amounts of time to complete their initial investigations and possibly avoid formal reassignments. When it grants additional time to a local administrator, LAUSD should continue to closely monitor the local administrator’s activities until the preliminary investigation is complete.

To ensure that substitutes do not exceed assignment time limits established by state law and regulations, formalize its recent practice of monitoring assignments of substitutes frequently for compliance with these time limits.

Agency Comment

LAUSD agreed with our recommendations and has identified actions it plans to take to implement them.





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