- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 23, 2015

LOS ANGELES (AP) - A celebrated Los Angeles Unified teacher filed a claim against the district Monday alleging his due process rights were violated and his reputation irreparably harmed after being removed from his classroom earlier this year.

Rafe Esquith is the author of several books, including best-seller “Teach Like Your Hair’s on Fire: The Methods and Madness Inside Room 56,” and a recipient of the National Medal of Arts.

He was removed from Hobart Elementary School in April after a fellow staff member complained about a joke he’d made about nudity in class. LA Unified School District has declined to discuss details of the case, other than to state that the matter is a “very complex issue” and that the district won’t be rushed to finish its investigation.

“While I respect that this teacher is extremely popular - and has been for some time - in the briefings that have been given to me, there are serious issues that go beyond the initial investigation,” Superintendent Ramon Cortines said.

Esquith was sent to the district’s “teacher jail” and later placed on home leave while the investigation continues. According to the claim, the probe has shifted from the initial joke made in class to Esquith’s nonprofit group, the Hobart Shakespeareans. The group gives disadvantaged children the opportunity to learn and perform Shakespearean works. It also includes an annual summer trip to Oregon for a Shakespearean festival.

Teachers and students rallied in support of Esquith at LA Unified’s school board meeting Tuesday.

“Mr. Esquith has suffered severe damage to his unprecedented and illustrious teaching career and reputation caused directly by LAUSD and Superintendent Cortines,” Esquith’s attorneys wrote in filing the claim.

The LA Unified probe began in March after a technology coordinator at Hobart Elementary School alerted the school’s principal to a joke Esquith made in class. Referencing a passage from Mark Twain’s “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” Esquith said if enough funds weren’t raised for the annual play, they’d all have to play the role of the king, the claim states.

Esquith then quoted directly from Twain: “At last, when he’d built up everyone’s expectations high enough, he rolled up the curtain. The next minute the king came prancing out on all fours, naked.”

In April, Esquith was removed from the school.

The faculty member who filed the complaint has since written Esquith in support, according to his attorneys. The complaint also alleges that after Esquith’s removal, children were forcibly pulled from class and grilled by investigators. When Esquith himself was interviewed, investigators asked him to list the women he dated in college and questioned him on topics like whether he’d ever been counseled for pushing someone at summer camp 40 years ago, according to the claim.

The claim also gives the district notice to Esquith’s intent to bring a class action complaint on behalf of “at least several thousand teachers” who have been denied due process and subject to arbitrary investigations.

“We overreact to everything. That’s the American way and I’m a victim of that overreaction,” Esquith said in an interview with the Los Angeles Times. “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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