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Villaraigosa reacts to Miramonte scandal with letter to governor

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa lobbied the governor this week to make it easier to fire teachers “who violate the public trust of our families and students.”

In a letter Wednesday to Gov. Jerry Brown, Villaraigosa refers to the January arrest of a Miramonte Elementary School teacher for allegedly blindfolding students and spoon-feeding them semen.

Villaraigosa noted that former instructor Mark Berndt received a $40,000 settlement last year from the Los Angeles Unified School District in exchange for dropping the challenge to his dismissal.

“While it is the district’s responsibility to follow the law to remove a teacher,” Villaraigosa wrote, “it is the state’s duty to ensure that the process is not so irrational and arduous that districts are forced to make these kinds of decisions, which encourage resignation as opposed to dismissal.”

Villaraigosa expanded on his views in an interview Thursday.

“Like everyone, I’m outraged -- and disgusted by what some of these teachers have done to prey on our kids and to violate the trust that our students and our families have,” he said.

Villaraigosa said he also had written to the Legislature with the same request for changes to state law.

The mayor also criticized a provision of the local teachers contract, which requires the purging of teacher personnel records after four years. The only negative documents that can be officially retained are those that pertain to a situation that resulted in formal discipline. The rule has complicated current efforts by L.A. Unified to identify teachers who pose a potential risk to students, officials have said.

The local union leadership has said that, in general, it’s willing to negotiate over any measures that would enhance student safety. Union leaders also have defended rules that are intended to provide teachers with “due process” to protect them against false accusations and mistreatment.

Villaraigosa said he also supports stripping pensions and the school district’s retiree health benefits from school employees found guilty of sexual felonies against students.

“The system is broken,” he said.

The mayor’s recommendations track closely with those of L.A. schools Supt. John Deasy.

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-- Howard Blume

 
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