BY GERALD AND ESTHER SCHILLER
Our son is in jail.
But there are no bars or armed guards, or wardens.
And he does go home to his wife each afternoon.
Our son is in “teacher jail.”
For those who may be unaware of this bizarre institution, “teacher jail” is the name applied (with no affection) to what the Los Angeles Unified School District calls teacher “housing.” And this euphemism refers to the act of removing teachers from their classrooms, if there are accusations against them, and placing them in large rooms where they, basically, sit for days, or weeks, or months, or even years. It may come as a surprise to many people but there are currently several hundred Los Angeles School District employees in this situation.
These “housed” men and women remain there, are allowed no contact with their schools or colleagues, and continue to collect their salaries, while substitute teachers (each hired at several hundred dollars per day) cover their classrooms.
The rationale for this “housing” is that these teachers pose a risk to the safety and well being of the students and staff of their schools.
Our son, however, is not a thief, a rapist, a pornographer, or a child molester.
On the contrary, he is an exemplary instructor who has distinguished himself for almost twenty years with nary a blemish on his record. He teaches Advanced Placement (college credit) classes in biology and psychology. He supervises numerous school clubs. He coaches fencing.
And he works assiduously on many school committees.
He has been praised by his students and their parents, given high marks by his colleagues, and spends long hours at the school where he works.
What then was the heinous offense that caused his placement in “teacher jail?”
Two students in one of his classes created projects for a science fair.
Each of these projects had the word “gun” in its title though neither resembled a gun in any form. But an administrator saw the projects when they were brought to the cafeteria for display and confiscated them, calling them “dangerous.” Our son, who had not yet seen the completed exhibits,was called into the principal’s office, and then, rather than being chastised and told never to repeat such an offense again, was told to report to “teacher jail.”
And there he sits. Now for more than a month.
There is both irony and tragedy in what has occurred.
Irony in that one of the confiscated projects—according to several parents— was similar to a science fair exhibit that won national awards and was included on the Los Angeles School District’s own website as an example of an outstanding student science achievement.
There is irony that the administrator who confiscated the projects and called them dangerous, has a background in teaching English, not science.
And it is highly ironic that our son was actively involved with the committee that chose the current principal—a principal who now seems eager to see him removed from the school.
But among the tragic aspects of this situation is that our son’s Advanced Placement students, now deprived of a qualified “AP” teacher may not be adequately prepared for their national examination, just weeks away.
It is also tragic that the students who submitted the projects are now extremely upset and feel guilty that they were responsible for their teacher’s removal.
Most tragically, however, is the fact that a caring, dedicated, and beloved teacher may be driven from a job he not only cares deeply about, but is also masterful at.
It seems that in the bizarre and arcane complexities of the Los Angeles Unified School District, because of its fear of public criticism and its terror at media finger-pointing, competent teachers like our son are too often pulled from their classrooms.
And there they sit.
In teacher jail.
Gerald and Esther Schiller are retired teachers. Both worked for many years with the Los Angeles Unified School District. Their son is on the faculty of Ramon C. Cortines High School for the Visual and Performing Arts, the arts school formerly known as Central High School #9.