A listening post monitoring public education and teachers’ unions.

Esquith Case Gets Curiouser

Written By: Mike Antonucci - Jun• 24•15

Teacher and author Rafe Esquith was removed from his fifth-grade classroom in April amid allegations of “misconduct.” The first reports were that it had something to do with him reading The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn to his class. But this controversy had little to do with the book at all.

Speaking to the Los Angeles Times, “Esquith acknowledged Monday that he quipped with students that if he could not raise enough money for the annual Shakespearean play they would all have to perform their parts naked like the king in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.”

That’s where it gets weird.

* The word “naked” apparently set off alarms in another teacher, who reported the incident to the principal. According to Esquith, the principal wasn’t too concerned about it, but it did get kicked upstairs by someone.

* Based on the information released so far, it doesn’t look like Esquith went to the union for representation, but instead hired high-powered attorney Mark Geragos.

* Geragos claims Esquith has already been cleared by the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing, which means someone reported it to the state level. Also, if true, the CCTC acted remarkably fast.

* Los Angeles schools superintendent Ramon Cortines said the case involves “serious issues that go beyond the initial investigation.”

* Esquith said “district investigators never explained the allegation of misconduct lodged against him but said they were not short of questions when he was interviewed. They asked, for example, the names of teachers who may not like him, the women he dated in college and whether he was counseled as a teenager for pushing someone at summer camp. “I asked them, ‘Have you talked to my students?’ and they absolutely said to me, ‘We’re only looking to talk to people who don’t like you,'” Esquith said. “It just seemed incredibly unfair.”

* Esquith and Geragos intend to file a class action suit on behalf of Los Angeles teachers who have received similar treatment and have been placed on administrative leave. What’s strange about that is they did it with no coordination with the teachers’ union, which negotiated the current disciplinary procedure and has yet to even file a grievance or make any other formal motion on Esquith’s behalf.

There has been no report so far of a parent or a student coming forward to make a complaint against Esquith, on this or any other issue. I wouldn’t expect the teacher who started this ball rolling to identify himself or herself, but however this turns out, there needs to be an investigation into the investigation.


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  1. Jack Covey says:

    UTLA’s Media Relations just posted a video about Rafe, in support of him:

    In the video, UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl talks about how, in their handling of the affair, violated the new contract language dealing with teachers accused of misconduct.

    UTLA is backing Rafe, but it’s up to him to enlist UTLA or not.

  2. Gerald says:

    The LAUSD’s strange management of this case is a little more explainable with their recent announcement of abuse allegations against Esquith for misconduct when he was a teenager 40 years ago. They were likely sitting on the file of this complaint waiting for an opportunity to investigate Esquith, or they just stumbled across it during their Mark Twain witch hunt and had to pursue it. Regardless, it’s striking to me that they didn’t defend Esquith against a petty complaint by a colleague. His work and dedication to his students is legendary, and he’s been awarded nearly every recognition of teaching excellence, except by one institution- the LAUSD. I’ve searched and can find no records of the district ever awarding him. From personal experience, I know that the district NEVER refers to his work during teacher trainings nor uses him as a model for good teaching. There must be administrators in the LAUSD who disdain Esquith for his independence and his published criticisms of public school management. To me, this is obvious in their energy and diligence to investigate him, and their silence in ever recognizing or supporting him in the past. Esquith’s joke was arguably inappropriate, but it was absolutely forgettable. His work with his students, however, is not. There is simply no way that Esquith’s students would’ve had the same education and experiences if he had played by the LAUSD’s rule book. The curious thing here is that no one is questioning the LAUSD about why they’ve only investigated their greatest teacher, and never supported or honored him.