The nation's second-largest school district was slow to investigate allegations of employee abuse against students and often failed to report them to a state teaching commission, according to a new report from the California State Auditor.
The report on the Los Angeles Unified School District, which this year has more than 650,000 students, was requested in March by the legislature's audit committee.
The audit follows a wave of sexual abuse allegations against employees within the last year, including accusations against a Miramonte Elementary School teacher that led to all instructors being removed from the campus.
At that school, veteran teacher Mark Berndt was accused of feeding semen-laced cookies to blindfolded students. Berndt, 61, has pleaded not guilty to related charges and is being held on $23 million bail.
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Titled "Los Angeles Unified School District: It Could Do More to Improve Its Handling of Child Abuse Allegations," the document was released Thursday.
The audit found LAUSD officials often failed to appropriately notify the state Commission on Teacher Credentialing about allegations against teachers when required to do so.
When the district began attempting to improve its practices, it reported 600 cases to the commission within three months. At least 144 of those were more than a year late, and 31 of those were more than three years late.
One case of a teacher accused of a sexual relationship with a student was reported 3 1/2 years late –
meaning the commission could not determine whether to revoke the teacher's credential, so that teacher could have found work in another school district.
The audit also found that the district spent $4.2 million in 2011 "housing" employees – in facilities away from the classroom – while they were under investigation. Those employees spent on average more than 200 days being "housed," the audit said.
One employee was "housed" for 4 1/2 years, the audit found.
Further, the district did not track the cost of settlements it offers to employees who would otherwise be subject to a lengthy dismissal process. The audit reviewed 47 settlements involving allegations of inappropriate conduct of an employee toward a student, and payouts in those agreements totaled more than $2 million.
The document also noted delays in disciplining or dismissing some employees suspected of child abuse, among other criticisms.
The state audit did note improvements LAUSD has made to reporting and investigation procedures and policies, including a new tracking system for improved reporting, and the creation of a unit for investigating complex cases of suspected child abuse.
Those improvements were the focus of LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy's brief statement on the audit Thursday.
"The state report acknowledges the strong steps that the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) has taken over the past several months to improve the safety of students on our campuses," Deasy said. "Along with other policy changes up and down the system instituted by the District, including the 72-hour notification to parents of alleged employee misconduct at their child’s school, these steps will help to further the trust and confidence of LAUSD families that students are learning in a safe environment."
Deasy wrote State Auditor Elaine M. Howle on Nov. 1, saying the district "gladly and respectfully" accepted all the recommendations in the audit.
Those recommendations for LAUSD include:
- alerting the Commission on Teacher Credentialing about employees who need to reviewed;
- ensuring investigations and discipline measures and timely and prompt;
- increasing oversight of open allegations of employee abuse against students; and
- establishing a districtwide tracking mechanism for settlements the includes amounts paid out and descriptions of misconduct.