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Judge rules L.A. Unified can fire special ed teacher paid to stay out of schools

July 13, 2009 |  1:59 pm

Kim200A Los Angeles Unified School District special education teacher who has been paid to stay away from classrooms for more than seven years while the district tried to fire him for alleged sexual harassment should be dismissed, a county Superior Court judge has ruled.

Matthew Kim, who formerly taught at Grant High School in Van Nuys, is accused of groping and making inappropriate comments to several students and co-workers. Kim, who was born with cerebral palsy and is confined to a wheelchair, was assigned to a district office in 2002 after the allegations and was paid his full salary and benefits.

Many critics said his case was emblematic of the difficulty facing state school districts, and particularly the Los Angeles Unified School District, in firing problematic teachers. A Times series, published in May, found that it can take years of paperwork and hearings to dismiss educators accused of wrongdoing. And it is mostly the egregious cases in which districts pursue termination.

In the Kim case, a three-member state commission that oversees teacher dismissals recommended that he be returned to the classroom. The case has wound its way through the court system, and in a decision made public Monday, Judge David P. Yaffe was sharply critical of the commission.

Yaffe ruled that the state commission ignored evidence that Kim was sexually harassing co-workers and students and said the commission was changing “the facts of the case to support its prior decision instead of changing its prior decision to one that is supported by the facts of the case.”

“Such actions … demonstrate the commission’s profound contempt for, and disrespect of, the judgments and orders of the courts of this state,” Yaffe wrote.

L.A. Unified officials must respond to the court, but L.A. Unified Supt. Ramon C. Cortines said he would move to suspend Kim’s pay immediately.

-- Jason Song

Photo: Matthew Kim has severe cerebral palsy and has been repeatedly accused of sexual harassment. Credit: Liz O. Baylen / Los Angeles Times

Times investigation: Failure gets a pass