A controversial series of disciplinary moves by the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) against an award-winning teacher with more than 30 years of experience in the field of education has resulted in the filing of a class action lawsuit by that teacher. 61-year-old Rafe Esquith, who had previously won accolades as National Teacher of the Year and the President’s National Medal of the Arts, had been teaching fifth graders at Hobart Boulevard Elementary school for years before his removal in April 2015 when the LAUSD officially voted to fire him earlier this month.
Esquith, through his attorney Mark Geragos, filed the class-action, alleging that the LAUSD was attempting to fire older teachers in an attempt to save money. Geragos stated that the lawsuit would include the names of more than 2,000 other teachers in the Los Angeles area that have suffered a similar fate, and he’s striving to get almost $1 Billion in pensions reinstated. The reason for Esquith’s termination, according to the school district was an “allegation of misconduct”.
In March, a technology coordinator for the school let slip to the principal that Esquith had been joking about the need for additional funds for his nonprofit group, the Hobart Shakespeareans. The group attempts to provide underprivileged children (the school is in the Korea-town section of the city) the opportunity to learn about William Shakespeare and perform his plays. Esquith began the Hobart Shakespearean Foundation to pay for materials related to his teaching, but also to fund road trips for the children to see Shakespearean plays.
Describing the process as a “witch hunt,” Esquith’s lawyer, Geragos claimed that such a dismissal besmirched Esquith’s good reputation. The lawyer further noted that the LAUSD had intimidated students into asserting damaging comments against Esquith and other older teachers in order to bolster their case against them. By firing these long-time teachers, the school district would not have to provide retirement benefits to dismissed instructors. In addition to the allegations of intimidation toward students, Esquith himself was questioned about events that took place generations ago – including who he had dated in college, an incident at a summer camp more than four decades ago, when he pushed an individual. In the latter case, and if he had ever received counseling for his actions.
In June. more than 50 parents and students offered their support by meeting in front of school and garnering media attention for the cause. In addition, the individual who first informed the school’s principal of Esquith’s actions expressed his support of the teacher, redacting his slanderous comments.
Esquith has written a number of books, including a best-selling publication that discussed his teaching methods. In addition to his other awards, he had been made an honorary Member of the Order of the British Empire. The LAUSD declined to comment on the lawsuit, but Geragos says the fact that the state of California had cleared Esquith of any wrongdoing was an indication that their claims were false. Potentially Mr. Esquith could be making a very large sum of money in the near future.