I am an unabashed supporter of Rafe Esquith. His books and teaching methods have been extremely important to my professional growth.
I hope he emerges from the saga that has seen him suspended, vindicated and triumphant.
From his modest classroom at Hobart Boulevard Elementary School in Koreatown, Rafe Esquith became an education superstar. His teaching techniques brought him worldwide recognition, and his books became models for how to engage young students.
But for the last two months of school, Esquith was sidelined. The Los Angeles Unified School District launched an investigation in March into allegations of misconduct by the popular teacher.
His attorneys said the investigation is related to comments about nudity that he made to students. In addition, they said L.A. Unified also is looking into Esquith’s nonprofit, the Hobart Shakespeareans, a drama group for students.
The decision to put him on leave — and keep him there for so long — has outraged supporters. But district officials have not backed down, saying that regardless of his celebrity, they won’t send him back to school until their investigation is completed.
The standoff comes as the school district struggles to recover after a series of scandals involving teachers and administrators accused of sexual misconduct with students. L.A. Unified last year paid a record $139 million to the victims of a Miramonte Elementary School teacher who was allowed to stay in the classroom even after complaints about his behavior with students.
Some see the Esquith case as part of the district’s effort to reform in the wake of the scandals. But whether it is an overcorrection remains a matter of much debate.
In his first interview since he was pulled from his fifth-grade class, Esquith told The Times on Monday that controversy stemmed from a joke he made in the classroom.
He said he quipped with students that if he could not raise enough money for the annual Shakespearean play, they would all have to perform their parts naked like the king in Mark Twain’s “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.”
After another teacher complained, he said he explained the context of the joke to his principal at Hobart Boulevard Elementary. The principal, he said, told him he had nothing to worry about. Nonetheless, Esquith was removed from the classroom in April.
“We overreact to everything. That’s the American way and I’m a victim of that overreaction,” Esquith said. “I want to fix this system. I want to make sure that teachers do not have to go through the same thing that I went through.”
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