In response to press coverage of multiple scandals involving inappropriate sexual activity on the part of some Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) personnel, local Assemblyman Ted Lieu is pushing legislation that would give students added protection.
Assembly Bill (AB) 506 seeks to strengthen current laws by authorizing law enforcement officials to notify schools even if there was not enough evidence for an indictment of a teacher, but law enforcement believes that a crime was committed.
“AB 506 is an important measure to protect California’s students while they are in the classroom,” said Lieu. “There is an obvious need for a better approach to reassigning teachers who have been accused of inappropriate conduct with a student. The press articles revealed gaping holes in the way we do this.”
The State Senate Education Committee approved the bill on June 26th.
The bill also requires the full school board — not staff members — to assess the charges of an employee who is removed from a classroom because of allegations of sexual misconduct and approve any reassignment of that employee back into the classroom.
According to a federal Department of Education study, nearly ten percent of students will encounter some type of teacher/ pupil sexual misconduct during their enrollment in school.
The legislation comes on the heels of a series of highly publicized incidents where L.A. Unified employees were arrested on charges involving sexual misconduct with students in the district.
Steven Rooney, an assistant principal who worked at a middle school in Watts last year, was arrested on March 4th on suspicion of forcible lewd acts with a 13-year-old girl. A subsequent investigation unearthed additional allegations of sexual misconduct with other students at another Los Angeles school in 2006 and a former student’s testimony that she told an administrator about the abuse. Rooney had been transferred to the Watts middle school following the accusations by the former student, now 18, who was enrolled at Foshay Learning Center.
Jes™s Angulo, principal of South East High School in South Gate, and MarÌa Sotomayor, an assistant principal, were charged May 1st with failing to report child abuse allegations by a girl who alleged that substitute teacher Jes™s Salvador Saenz had sex with her.
“It’s about time,” said Kelly Kane, president of the Westchester/Playa del Rey Education Foundation. “We put our kids in the trust and care of the school administrations, and for the school board and the district administration to place these people in these positions is absolutely untenable.”
L.A. Unified superintendent David L. Brewer issued a statement recently about the Rooney matter and the district’s new policy regarding employees involved in student abuse cases.
“I want parents to know that we take allegations of abuse very seriously,” Brewer said. “A thorough preliminary investigation has revealed that the key central office personnel most responsible for the mishandling of the Rooney case, including the previous chief operating officer, are no longer working at the district.
“However, further investigations are ongoing, and discipline of other personnel may result in the immediate future.”
Last month, The Argonaut reported that the principal at Del Rey Continuation High School, Randolph Cornfield, 60, a Playa del Rey resident, was arrested after police received a tip that he was allegedly in possession of child pornography.
Detective Moses Castillo of the Los Angeles Police Department Juvenile Division said that to date there is no evidence that the principal, who has been placed on leave pending an investigation, is connected to any incidents of child abuse involving students.
Parents in Santa Monica were stunned when a longtime teacher, Thomas Arthur Beltr·n, was arrested in May. The 20-year Lincoln Middle School teacher, who had worked in the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District for 30 years, was arrested on eight counts of lewd acts on a child, three counts of continuous sexual abuse and three counts of sexual penetration of a foreign object on a child under 14.
School officials began to investigate after a female student came forward to accuse him of lewd acts.
Beltran is being held at the Los Angeles County Men’s Jail in lieu of $3.3 million bail.
Local law enforcement agencies have expressed support for Lieu’s bill.
“AB 506 is an important child protection measure that will ensure school districts properly investigate allegations of serious misconduct by certified employees of our schools,” said Los Angeles County deputy district attorney Daniel Felizzatto. “This measure will also close a loophole in existing law that will allow law enforcement to notify school districts when one of their certified employees has committed serious sex offenses or narcotics offenses.”
The Rooney case “could have been easily prevented had AB 506 been the law,” Lieu asserted. “AB 506 ensures that the process is diligent, thorough and accountable, and requires the school board — not district staff — to approve transfers of employees who are placed on leave because of suspicion of committing crimes.”
Brewer conceded that more oversight could possibly have prevented these incidents from occurring.
“The investigation also concluded that while the district routinely handles such matters effectively, in this instance there were multiple system breakdowns that led to a tragic situation,” the superintendent acknowledged. “Based on these findings, the district has immediately implemented aggressive safeguards to ensure that this does not ever hap- pen again.”
The policy changes include the creation of a Safety Task Force, enhanced formal collaboration with law enforcement, clearer definitions of accountabilities, roles and responsibilities throughout all lines of L.A. Unified leadership, a comprehensive district-wide educational campaign to raise awareness, including parents and students and more effective use of technology to manage and track key information.
“With respect to Mr. Rooney, we understand that he has been held to answer and will stand trial on multiple criminal counts,” said Brewer. “The students and families of LAUSD have a right to expect that children will be safe in school, and ensuring student safety is a moral imperative, and my top priority.”
Kane, a mother of two young children who spoke before the school board about the Rooney matter at a March meeting, was angered when she learned that district employees had prior knowledge of Rooney’s alleged misconduct at another school prior to his transfer.
“You just don’t dump your garbage from one place to another,” she said. “This is what happens when all stakeholders — parents, community members and the administration — are not included in matters where our children are involved.”
Calls for comment to board member Marlene Canter, whose area includes Westchester, Mar Vista and Playa del Rey, had not been returned at Argonaut press time.
AB 506 will now move to the Senate Appropriations Committee later this month.
ASSEMBLY BILL ON VENDORS — AB 506 is the second Assembly bill this year that targets improprieties in the school district. In January, assistant majority leader Kevin de LeÛn of Los Angeles authored legislation that would prevent vendors that have been found in breach of an information technology contract from bidding or engaging in a new contract with another state or local agency for five years.
The bill, AB 730, arose out of the controversy that enveloped the district last year when thousands of teachers and certificated personnel were shortchanged in their paychecks. Some were overpaid, and others not paid at all for months.
Deloitte & Touche, a nationally recognized audit and consulting firm, was originally hired to install a new payroll system in 2006 for $95 million, and last year the firm was hired to repair what district officials and union representatives called an ineffective system of accurately paying its certificated employees.
The total cost to install and fix software was estimated at approximately $210 million.