Complete Coverage of the ongoing investigation of a South LA elementary school

Where Do Problem Teachers Go? The "Rubber Room"

The "rubber room" is a reassignment center where teachers are paid to wait on disciplinary action by the school district

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    NEWSLETTERS

    The "rubber room" is where teachers accused of everything from drug abuse to sexual harassment are sent to do nothing, but still collect their salaries, benefits and accrue time toward pensions. (Published Tuesday, Mar 6, 2012)

    It’s called the "rubber room" -- a popular name for a reassignment center many say is emblematic of what is wrong with public education.

    The rubber room is where teachers accused of everything from drug abuse to sexual harassment are sent to do nothing, but still collect a salary, benefits and accrue time toward pensions.

    "Several of the people I know in rubber rooms have been there two years, some people as long as five years," said Leonard Isenberg, a disciplined LAUSD teacher. "You don’t just sit there. You can’t do anything. Think of Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo, with a paycheck."

    The Los Angeles Unified School District has 161 teachers assigned to various offices throughout the district. It’s a policy LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy is trying to change – as in the case with former Miramonte Elementary School teacher and accused child molester, Mark Berndt.

    "Traditionally what the district has done is to say we put you in an office, we pay you, and we wait for all the stuff to happen," Deasy said. "I am not acting that way."

    There are plenty of teachers who support efforts to get rid of reassignment centers, but for different reasons.

    Leonard Isenberg, who taught in the district for 25 years, said he ended up in one after repeatedly complaining that his school, Central Continuation High School, was graduating students with second-grade reading levels.

    He said that angered the principal, and that led to accusations of him yelling at students and watching pornography in class.

    Isenberg used his time in the rubber room to create a web site, perdaily.com, which looks critically at the district, reassignment centers and its discipline procedure.

    He was ultimately fired by the district, but still has an appeal hearing later this year. Isenberg said the district’s procedures make teachers guilty until proven innocent and fearful of false accusations.

    "The students know they can get teachers in trouble by just saying anything," Isenberg said.

    Retired teacher and California Teachers Empowerment Network president Larry Sand said rubber rooms are necessary and are not going away anytime soon.

    "There’s arbitration and hearings and all sorts of things that have to take place before a teacher would actually lose his job," Sand said. "If he’s not in the classroom, they have to put him somewhere."

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