Costs Associated With Teacher Reassignments Have Decreased but Remain Substantial, and Recent Trends Indicate They May Rise Again
Over the past few years, the overall amount that the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) spent related to its process of removing—or reassigning—teachers from classrooms in response to allegations of misconduct has decreased. Part of the reduction in these expenses occurred because LAUSD reassigned fewer teachers than it did several years ago. However, although recent expenses do not represent a significant proportion of LAUSD’s total budget, they remain substantial. Further, we noted that even though LAUSD has had fewer teacher reassignments to investigate, it is taking longer to resolve them. This has created a recent increase in the number of open reassignments that could cause costs to rise again in coming years. Our review shows that the expenses associated with individual reassignment cases can vary widely. For a selection of 18 reassignments, costs per case ranged from about $7,000 to nearly $315,000 during the period we reviewed.
LAUSD’s Costs Related to Its Teacher Reassignments Have Decreased in Recent Years but Remain Substantial
As described in the Introduction, state law generally requires school districts to take action to dismiss teachers before they stop paying them.1 According to data from its Incident Reporting System Database (database), LAUSD has reassigned more than 600 teachers for some period of time during the past five fiscal years while formally investigating allegations of misconduct. The expenses associated with compensating those employees were substantial. Although these expenses represent teacher salaries and benefit costs that the district would incur if they were not reassigned and were performing their normal duties, during the reassignment period they represent costs for the teachers to stay at home and not perform any duties.
The overall salary and benefit costs of reassigned teachers have decreased in recent years. LAUSD tracks the amount it spends on the salaries and benefits of reassigned teachers while they are out of the classroom. According to its assistant budget director for the Budget Services and Financial Planning Division (assistant budget director), LAUSD accounts for those costs in a centralized way because while teachers are reassigned, their salaries represent an administrative expense that is not included in individual school budgets. LAUSD provided us the salary and benefit amounts of reassigned teachers for fiscal years 2011–12 through 2015–16. As shown in Table 5, LAUSD’s salary and benefit costs of reassigned teachers for each of the last five fiscal years reached a high of nearly $16.6 million in fiscal year 2012–13 before dropping to $12.6 million for fiscal year 2015–16. However, unless LAUSD reassigns significantly fewer teachers in fiscal year 2016–17, the costs of reassigned teachers will likely increase in that year, as LAUSD had significantly more open reassignments at the end of fiscal year 2015–16 than it did at the end of fiscal year 2014–15, as we discuss in the next section.
Salary and Benefit Costs of Reassigned Teachers and the Substitute Teachers That Replaced Them by Fiscal Year
|Substitute teachers (low estimate)||4,323,813||7,510,267||6,288,751||4,304,759||3,251,785*||25,679,374|
|Substitute teachers (high estimate)||7,591,333||13,246,822||11,353,690||7,782,162||5,844,344*||45,818,350|
Sources: Los Angeles Unified School District’s (LAUSD) controller for the costs of reassigned teachers and California State Auditor’s analysis of data obtained from LAUSD’s Incident Reporting System Database and compensation and benefits information for substitutes.
Note: The amounts for reassigned teachers include the costs of their salaries and health benefits. In calculating the low estimated amount LAUSD paid substitutes, we applied LAUSD’s lower, or standard, daily pay rate and did not include the cost of health benefits. In calculating the high estimated amount LAUSD paid substitutes, we applied the higher, or extended, daily pay rate to reassignments lasting at least 20 days and the lower daily pay rate to those that did not, and applied the cost of benefits to all reassignments.
Refer to Table 4 for the discussion on the reliability of the data presented here.
* Estimate is based on data from July 1, 2015, through June 1, 2016.
When LAUSD reassigns teachers, it arranges for substitute teachers (substitutes) to serve in their classrooms. One way LAUSD does this is to pay for the services of day‑to‑day substitutes, who are assigned as needed to replace a regular credentialed employee and compensated for each day they teach. We refer to this type of pay as the standard daily pay rate. In those instances when a day‑to‑day substitute works for more than 20 school days in the same classroom, the substitute is entitled to a higher daily rate of pay that is retroactive to the start of the assignment. We refer to this type of pay as the extended daily pay rate. Day‑to‑day substitutes can also qualify for health benefits through the district when they were in paid status at least 100 full days in certificated service in the preceding school year.
Although it tracks the costs of salaries and benefits paid to reassigned teachers, LAUSD does not centrally track amounts spent to compensate the substitutes. Instead, salaries and benefits paid to substitutes, including those filling in for reassigned teachers, are tracked at the individual school. Therefore, to estimate the costs of teacher reassignments, we calculated a range of costs for substitutes who replaced reassigned teachers during fiscal year 2011–12 through June 1, 2016.
Like the costs of the reassigned teachers, the costs of the day‑to‑day substitutes who replace these teachers have decreased in recent years. To account for the different ways in which substitutes are compensated, we calculated a range of costs, as shown in Table 5. The lower estimate is based on the standard daily pay rate plus related employment costs and assumes that none of the substitutes received benefits. Under this method, we estimated that LAUSD’s costs were roughly $3.3 million over 11 months in fiscal year 2015–16, down from a high of $7.5 million in fiscal year 2012–13. We based the higher estimate on the extended daily pay rate for substitutes when the reassignment lasted more than 20 consecutive days. This higher estimate also assumes that the substitutes received benefits. Under this higher estimate, LAUSD’s costs for substitutes were $5.8 million over 11 months in fiscal year 2015–16, after reaching a high of $13.3 million in fiscal year 2012–13. The actual costs of the daily substitutes that fill in for reassigned teachers are likely to be somewhere between these two estimates. We calculated the actual costs of substitutes in 18 completed reassignment cases, which we discuss in more detail in the next section. As part of that review, we found that 12 of 33 day‑to‑day substitutes were paid the extended daily rate and 21 were paid the standard daily rate. Additionally, 24 of the 33 received benefits while filling in for reassigned teachers.
LAUSD also uses another type of substitute to fill in for reassigned teachers, with different implications for the related costs. At any given point, LAUSD has a pool of full‑time credentialed teachers who are employed and paid by the district but who do not currently have classroom assignments; these teachers have been displaced by factors such as declining enrollment. LAUSD’s policy is to prioritize the use of these displaced teachers as substitutes to cover teacher absences, including teacher reassignments. When the district is able to assign a displaced teacher to a reassigned teacher’s classroom, it avoids the cost of hiring a day‑to‑day substitute. However, according to LAUSD’s deputy chief human resources officer (human resources officer), the district’s demand for substitute teachers at any given time exceeds the number of available displaced teachers. As a result, the use of displaced teachers to fill in for reassigned teachers means a day‑to‑day substitute is needed to serve in a different class with an absent teacher, creating a cost that LAUSD would not have otherwise incurred without the reassignment.
Although the costs of reassignment represent a very small proportion—less than 1 percent—of LAUSD’s total budget of $12.6 billion for fiscal year 2015–16, they represent funds that could be put to use elsewhere. For example, even the lowest estimates exceed both the amounts set aside in LAUSD’s fiscal year 2015–16 budget for training employees who work in the district’s gifted and talented program ($1.3 million) and its budget to support district employees’ professional development ($1.1 million). Therefore, reducing the amounts spent on teacher reassignments could provide more resources for the district to use in developing its teaching force or for other worthwhile purposes.
The Costs of Reassigning Teachers Vary Widely Depending on the Circumstances of the Individual Reassignment
To further analyze the expenses associated with teacher reassignments, we reviewed 18 cases that were completed during fiscal years 2011–12 through March 15, 2016. We reviewed three reassignments each in fiscal years 2011–12 through 2014–15 and all six reassignments that LAUSD started after it issued its revised reassignment policy on August 5, 2015, and that it completed by March 15, 2016, when we obtained the data. For each reassignment we reviewed, we determined the length of the reassignment, the reassigned teacher’s actual salary throughout the reassignment, the cost of benefits the teacher was receiving throughout the reassignment, the specific substitutes that replaced the teacher and for how long, how much those specific substitutes were paid, and the cost of any benefits for those substitutes.
Depending on the length of the reassignment and the specific substitutes that replaced the reassigned teacher, we found that the expenses associated with a single reassignment varied significantly. For our selection of 18 reassignments, the total expenses per case ranged from about $7,000 to nearly $315,000. The expenses associated with the shortest reassignment we reviewed, lasting only nine school days, were about $7,000. The teacher was reassigned just before the end of the school year and was replaced with a substitute paid at the standard daily rate. Although the reassignment continued into the summer, the teacher retired before the next school year began. The longest reassignment we reviewed lasted 557 school days, or more than three school years, and cost nearly $315,000. The expenses we calculated associated with the 18 reassignments totaled nearly $1.2 million in salaries and benefits for the reassigned teachers and nearly $0.5 million in salaries and benefits for the substitutes that replaced them.
LAUSD’s Increased Volume of Open Reassignments Could Result in Rising Costs
LAUSD’s data show it has experienced a reduction in the costs of reassignments in recent years, primarily from reductions in the number of open teacher reassignment cases during those years. Specifically, at the end of fiscal year 2012–13, the district had 216 open reassignments, and by June 2016 this number had decreased to 104. As Table 6 shows, LAUSD reassigned fewer teachers during this time, which is one reason for the decrease. After a five‑year high of 195 new reassignments in fiscal year 2012–13, LAUSD reassigned significantly fewer teachers in each of the next three years. However, we noted that its 90 reassignments during the first 11 months of fiscal year 2015–16 represent a considerable increase from the previous year’s 63 reassignments. Because LAUSD’s policy regarding the reasons teachers should be reassigned has not changed substantially, the cause of the fluctuation in reassignments is unclear. When we asked LAUSD for its perspective on this, the director of the Employee Relations Section (Employee Relations) stated that employees are reassigned to ensure student and school safety, regardless of the number reassigned.
Number of Open and Resolved LAUSD Reassignments by Fiscal Year
|Fiscal Year||New Teacher Reassignments in Fiscal Year||Number of Resolved Reassignments|
through June 1, 2016
|Total resolved in fiscal year||131||130||171||126||77|
end of fiscal year†
Source: California State Auditor’s analysis of data obtained from Los Angeles Unified School District’s (LAUSD) Incident Reporting System Database (database).
Note: Refer to Table 4 for the discussion on the reliability of the data presented here.
* We included all teacher reassignment cases contained in LAUSD’s database that were still open as of July 1, 2011.
† Open reassignment totals are as of June 30 each year, except in fiscal year 2015–16, when the total is as of June 1, 2016.
Despite LAUSD’s recent reduction in its total number of open teacher reassignments, its reassignment data indicate an increasing number of open cases, which could lead to rising costs. As Table 6 shows, LAUSD resolved 77 reassignments in fiscal year 2015–16, significantly fewer than in any of the previous four years, and down from a high of 171 reassignments resolved in fiscal year 2013–14. However, LAUSD’s data show that the length of time LAUSD is now taking to resolve the reassignments it has open has significantly increased. As Figure 2 shows, the 77 teacher reassignments LAUSD resolved in fiscal year 2015–16 remained open for a median length of 420 calendar days, compared to a median length of 236 calendar days for reassignments resolved in fiscal year 2011–12. We discuss the reasons for this increase in the following section. Although the number of open reassignments at the close of the year is partly a function of how late in the year the most recent reassignments took place, the recent increase in the number of reassignments, coupled with LAUSD’s longer resolution times, indicates a growing backlog and raises concerns that the reassignments costs will rise again.
Number of Reassignments LAUSD Resolved Each Year for Fiscal Years 2011–12 Through 2015–16, and Their Median Length When Resolved
Source: California State Auditor’s analysis of data obtained from Los Angeles Unified School District’s (LAUSD) Incident Reporting System Database.
Note: We compared the median number of days—the midpoint of the range—that LAUSD took to resolve reassignments completed in a fiscal year, rather than the average number of days, in order to reduce the effect of strong outliers in our year‑to‑year comparison.
Refer to Table 4 for the discussion on the reliability of the data presented here.
* Fiscal year 2015–16 data are as of June 1, 2016.
Investigators and Administrators Frequently Exceeded Certain Key Time Frames for Resolving Teacher Reassignments
LAUSD’s policy for investigating employees reassigned because of alleged misconduct includes specific time frames for completing each phase of the reassignment and investigation process. However, LAUSD currently does not sufficiently monitor or comprehensively track and report on the frequency with which the divisions or individuals responsible for each phase in the process comply with these time frames. Our review determined that the administrators of LAUSD’s six local districts (local administrators) consistently met the time frame set for determining whether to formally reassign teachers. However, LAUSD frequently exceeded each of its other time frames, including those for investigating allegations against reassigned teachers and for making decisions about whether to discipline those teachers. Together, these delays contributed to teacher reassignments taking longer to resolve than necessary. Further, LAUSD has not established a formal time frame for coordinating the return of reassigned employees to the classroom when allegations are deemed unfounded or do not warrant dismissal. As a result, our review of long‑open cases revealed significant additional delays, some of which LAUSD likely could have prevented if its administrators better monitored and managed the process of returning teachers to the classroom.
LAUSD Does Not Sufficiently Monitor or Report on Whether It Meets Key Time Frames for Resolving Teacher Reassignments
LAUSD’s reassignment policy includes several time frame goals that responsible parties are expected to meet to help ensure timely resolutions for teacher reassignments. As discussed in the Introduction and depicted in Figure 1, these goals include a five‑day preliminary assessment period during which the local administrator must decide whether to formally reassign the teacher and refer the case to LAUSD’s centralized Investigation Team. LAUSD’s policy in effect for the cases we reviewed stated the goal for completing all investigations is 90 workdays. However, according to the acting Investigation Team director, the team then has either 90 or 120 workdays—based on the complexity of the case—to conclude its investigation. After that, the policy outlines additional time frames for administrators to come to a disciplinary decision.
Despite the specific time frames in its policy, LAUSD does not use its database to comprehensively track and report on the time it takes relevant LAUSD staff to investigate cases, reach disciplinary decisions, or to return a teacher to the classroom. LAUSD’s database does allow staff to view a snapshot of the status of open reassignment cases. Specifically, it includes the division or individual responsible for the current step in the process, and the date the case was transferred to that responsible party. The database uses this date to calculate how many days the case has been with the party currently responsible. LAUSD’s co‑lead chief human resources officer provided examples of monthly point‑in‑time reports on open reassignment cases he provides to the district superintendent and the LAUSD Board of Education (School Board). However, according to the analyst who enters data into the system, although the database keeps historical records of this information, the database is only programmed to report on the responsible party at a particular point in time. As a result, LAUSD has not used its historical information to determine how long reassignments take to move through the steps of the process to identify where it is frequently exceeding the time frames in its policy, nor has it reported on its performance in resolving reassignment cases over time.
LAUSD indicated to us that district staff use the database to track open reassignment cases as part of monitoring compliance with the time frames in its policy. However, LAUSD did not provide evidence that this monitoring process occurs consistently. Additionally, our review indicates that any monitoring that did occur was not sufficient; as we discuss in later sections of this report, our review of a selection of teacher reassignments found that LAUSD frequently exceeded the time frames in its policy. For example, we identified three cases in which the local administrator exceeded the policy time frame for making a disciplinary determination about a reassigned teacher. LAUSD could only provide evidence of oversight by LAUSD staff in one of these three cases: an email to the local administrator from a coordinator in Employee Relations—the section responsible for tracking teacher reassignments. However, the local administrator had already exceeded the policy time frame by seven days when Employee Relations followed up on the case. The assistant general counsel stated that LAUSD is aware of the extent to which it is exceeding its time frame goals, such as those that we identified in our review. However, our review indicates that LAUSD does not currently have effective processes to prevent unnecessary delays, nor has it used historical data to identify which steps in the process are contributing to delays so it can take corrective action.
According to LAUSD’s Employee Relations deputy director, LAUSD is currently developing a new incident tracking and reporting system, which Employee Relations plans to implement in late October 2016. The administrative analyst who works with the current database explained that as part of implementing the new system, LAUSD will have reports that will produce the historical data on its reassignments in addition to reports on the current status of open cases. The Employee Relations deputy director also stated that as part of implementing that system, LAUSD plans to develop reporting capabilities to centrally monitor active cases to determine their compliance with all policy time frames. Developing these capabilities will give LAUSD tools it needs to monitor active cases to determine their compliance with key reassignment time frames. However, to ensure that it uses its monitoring and reporting capabilities effectively, LAUSD should also establish a formal process to periodically monitor and report on overall compliance with each key decision point over time to identify where it needs improvement. In addition to helping identify and address delays, establishing a formal process to monitor its compliance will allow LAUSD to provide more detailed information to its stakeholders, such as the School Board.
Local Administrators Complied With the Time Frames for Preliminary Assessments
Since August 2012, LAUSD policy has given local decision makers five workdays to perform a preliminary assessment of misconduct allegations before deciding whether to formally reassign a teacher. During this preliminary assessment, the teacher is temporarily removed from his or her classroom but is not yet formally reassigned. Under LAUSD’s reassignment policy, published in August 2015 and depicted in Figure 1, during this five‑day period the local administrator is responsible for determining whether to return the teacher to the classroom or proceed with formal reassignment pending the outcome of LAUSD’s investigation of the misconduct allegation. If the local administrator determines there is a credible allegation of employee misconduct that indicates a significant safety risk to students, staff, other employees, or members of the school community, he or she will reassign the teacher. The policy states that employees may be reassigned as a result of inappropriate conduct occurring at or away from the work site, including but not limited to credible allegations of sexual misconduct, acts of workplace violence that threaten or result in serious injury, or any allegations, arrests, or filing of criminal charges related to serious criminal acts, in accordance with applicable law. Further, the policy states that teachers may be reassigned if their presence disrupts district operations or threatens the integrity of an investigation. After deciding that reassignment is necessary, the local administrator submits a request to the Investigation Team director for a full investigation. Additionally, if the local administrator has not completed the preliminary assessment within those five days, he or she is to formally reassign the teacher and turn the matter over to the Investigation Team.
We reviewed 21 reassignments that occurred after LAUSD published its updated policy in August 2015. As Table 7 shows, local administrators complied with the five‑day time frame for completing a preliminary assessment of whether to formally reassign the teacher. LAUSD’s director of Employee Relations stated that LAUSD implemented procedures to better monitor compliance with the five‑day goal after it found that in some instances local administrators were exceeding that time frame.
LAUSD’s Compliance With Key Time Frames for Reassignments Reviewed
|Time Frame Goal Category||Responsible Party||Number of Cases Reviewed*||Number of Instances Goal Was Missed||Percentage That Missed Goal|
|Five‑workday preliminary assessment of allegation||Local district administrator of operations (local administrator)||21||0||0%|
|90‑workday investigation†||Student Safety Investigation Team (Investigation Team)||21||10‡||48|
|15‑workday disciplinary determination||Local administrator||7||3||43|
|Eight‑workday case determination review||Employee Relations Section or Office of Staff Relations||7||4||57|
Source: California State Auditor’s analysis of Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) case files for reassigned teachers and its employee reassignment policy.
* Some of these cases were ongoing at the time of our review or did not go through the entire process because of a teacher’s resignation. Therefore, not all categories in this table apply to each case we reviewed.
† The LAUSD policy in effect for the cases we reviewed states that the goal for completing all investigations is 90 workdays. As we discuss in greater detail in the report text, LAUSD indicated it had a practice of allowing 120 workdays for complex investigations. LAUSD made this distinction clear in a May 2016 revision to its policy.
‡ According to the acting director of the Investigation Team, law enforcement requested that LAUSD refrain from actively investigating two of these cases for a portion of the time. When we exclude the days that the cases were on hold for the law enforcement investigation, one of the cases was within the 90‑workday investigation goal. However, this case was still ongoing at the time that we completed our review of the investigation in early June 2016. The other investigation had been open for 121 days and was also ongoing.
As part of its updated reassignment policy in August 2015, LAUSD increased the responsibilities of its Investigation Team while shortening its time frame goal. The updated policy expanded the Investigation Team’s responsibilities by making the team responsible for all investigations of alleged misconduct that result in formal reassignments rather than just complex cases of alleged sexual misconduct. Additionally, the policy reduced the goal for completion from 120 workdays to 90 workdays. However, the Investigation Team’s acting director told us that in complex cases, namely those involving allegations of sexual misconduct, LAUSD’s practice continues to apply a goal of 120 workdays.
Although local administrators complied with the LAUSD’s five‑day time frame for completing preliminary assessments, the Investigation Team frequently exceeded the time frames for completing its investigations. For the 21 reassignment cases we reviewed, the Investigation Team had exceeded its 90‑workday goal for completing investigations in 10 cases at the time of our review, as Table 7 shows. Further, we noted that at the time of our review, nine of those 10 investigations had already taken more than 120 days.
Table 8 on the following page provides the length and status of each investigation at the time of our detailed review in early June 2016. For the 10 late cases, the Investigation Team exceeded its 90‑workday goal by a range of 25 to 60 workdays. According to the Investigation Team’s former director, two of these investigations were delayed because of long‑term holds by law enforcement, during which law enforcement asked that LAUSD not perform any further investigation until it had completed the criminal matter. However, in one of these two cases, excluding the roughly four‑month hold by law enforcement, LAUSD’s investigation had already exceeded the 120‑workday goal by one day in early June 2016—the time of our review—and the investigation was ongoing. In the other case, when we exclude the three‑month hold by law enforcement, the investigation had been open for 63 workdays in early June 2016 and was still open. The case notes that LAUSD staff members entered into the database are consistent with the director’s explanation that law enforcement placed a hold on investigation efforts by LAUSD during these periods.
In two other cases in which LAUSD’s investigation exceeded 90 workdays, the reassigned teacher separated from the district while the investigation was ongoing. The former director told us that investigative work was prioritized in an attempt to complete investigations in which the teacher is a current employee. The acting director explained that the Investigation Team’s practice is to complete all investigations involving sexual misconduct, even if the reassigned employee resigns before the investigation is completed, which is why the Investigation Team continued with one of the two cases. He stated that for the other case involving a nonsexual allegation, the Investigation Team might have completed the investigation because it was very close to completion, or LAUSD’s Office of the General Counsel (General Counsel) or Human Resources did not inform the Investigation Team of the resignation. He explained that he plans to close future investigations of nonsexual cases if the employee resigns before the investigation is completed. In those cases, state law requires LAUSD, along with all other school districts in the State, to report on the teacher’s misconduct and separation from the district to the Commission on Teacher Credentialing (Teacher Credentialing). According to a manager in Teacher Credentialing’s Division of Professional Practices, Teacher Credentialing will evaluate the information that it has received and will send a request for all additional documents when it begins its investigation to ensure it has received all pertinent documents from the school district. The manager also stated that this information and Teacher Credentialing’s resulting actions are considered by Teacher Credentialing’s Committee of Credentials. This committee is responsible for deciding whether to recommend disciplinary action for teachers accused of misconduct, such as suspending or revoking their teaching credential.
Length and Status of Reassigned Teacher Investigations Reviewed
|Case Number||Length of Investigation*
(as of June 8, 2016, in Workdays)
|Investigation Status (as of June 8, 2016)|
Source: California State Auditor’s analysis of case files for reassigned teachers.
Note: The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) policy in effect for the cases we reviewed states that the goal for completing all investigations is 90 workdays. As we discuss in greater detail in the report text, LAUSD indicated it had a practice of allowing 120 workdays for complex investigations. LAUSD made this distinction clear in a May 2016 revision to its policy.
* Number of workdays between the date of the formal reassignment and the completion of the investigation.
† According to the former director of the Investigation Team, law enforcement requested that LAUSD not actively investigate these cases for a certain period of time contained within the total days displayed in the table. When we exclude those days, one investigation (number 13) had been going on for 63 days and the other (number 21) for 121 days. Both investigations were still ongoing at the time of our review.
In the remaining six cases we reviewed in which the Investigation Team did not complete the investigations on time, the former director stated that staffing and workload issues contributed to the delays. For example, for one completed investigation into an incident in which the teacher allegedly pushed a student into a locker and then threw the student to the floor, the investigation took 127 workdays. In this case, the director stated that because of a temporary lack of staff to work on cases, he did not assign the case to an investigator for nearly a month after his team received the investigation request. In another case, the director stated that his team received a request for an investigation on October 30, 2015, and he did not assign the case until December 16—or 30 workdays later. The acting director explained that he matches incoming cases with investigators based on case complexity and the investigators’ experience and availability. He stated that in the past, this has led to triaging cases based on available resources and has necessitated leaving some cases initially unassigned.
According to the district’s data, the Investigation Team’s workload increased substantially during the 2015–16 fiscal year. As we discussed earlier, with the publication of LAUSD’s updated policy in August 2015, the Investigation Team was given responsibility for all investigations of alleged misconduct that result in formal reassignments. According to LAUSD’s previous reassignment policy, before August 2015 the Investigation Team was responsible for completing investigations of only complex cases—those involving allegations of sexual misconduct. The Investigation Team’s acting director noted that the team also performed investigations of substitutes who were blocked from teaching as a result of sexual misconduct allegations, and local districts handled all other employee reassignments and investigations into misconduct. In fiscal year 2014–15, LAUSD formally reassigned only 63 teachers. Of those, 23 were reassigned because of allegations of sexual misconduct and therefore these cases were the responsibility of the Investigation Team. In contrast, after the August 2015 policy took effect, LAUSD local administrators formally reassigned 90 teachers in the first 11 months of fiscal year 2015–16, and all of these cases fell under the Investigation Team’s expanded responsibilities. The Investigation Team’s acting director provided an internal reporting document showing that the increased responsibility more than doubled the team’s workload between 2014–15 and 2015–16, including investigations into misconduct by substitutes and nonteachers. The acting director stated that when the Investigation Team’s responsibility increased, he understood it to cover only cases in which student safety was at risk. However, he noted that in the past year the team had investigated reassignments that went beyond safety concerns.
Long investigation times contribute to the substantial expense of reassignments as well as the stigma formally reassigned teachers may experience. According to the acting director when its responsibilities increased, the Investigation Team requested six additional investigators to handle the anticipated workload. However, he stated that the Investigation Team initially received only three additional positions for fiscal year 2015–16. In April 2016, the team received a fourth position. Also, in May 2016, LAUSD began assigning cases to an outside investigation firm to assist the Investigation Team in completing its investigations. The acting director stated that the outside investigators were intended to provide support in rare situations in which an allegation involved an extraordinary number of victims or witnesses. However, because of the increased caseload, LAUSD decided to begin using the outside investigators to handle cases on an ongoing basis. The acting director stated that LAUSD’s General Counsel is responsible for ensuring the quality and consistency of the investigations these outside investigators complete. With the added capacity of the outside investigators since May 2016, he expects to be able to assign all new cases as they come in.
Local Administrators and District Managers Also Missed Key Decision Deadlines
Our review also showed additional delays in the administrative processes that occurred after completion of the investigations. These processes include determining the disciplinary action, if any, that the reassigned teachers will face and whether to return the employee to a work site or to initiate dismissal proceedings. According to LAUSD’s policy, within 15 workdays of receiving the investigation report, the local administrator has to determine whether to return the teacher to the classroom—with or without disciplinary action—or to initiate the dismissal process. When submitting their determinations to LAUSD for review, local administrators are required to complete and submit to Employee Relations a packet of reassignment documents, including a checklist designed to ensure that they have included all of the necessary information. This reassignment packet includes documents such as the investigation report, employment summary, and written statements from the reassigned teacher, witnesses, and alleged victims. The local administrator and the principal from the reassigned teacher’s school also each provide a proposed decision regarding whether to dismiss the teacher or return him or her to the classroom and a written rationale for their decisions. Table 7 on page 24 provides the results of our review of LAUSD’s compliance with timelines for key steps in its reassignment process.
For the 21 teacher reassignments we reviewed under its August 2015 reassignment policy, LAUSD had completed seven investigations at the time we began our review.2 Table 7 also shows that of those seven cases, the local administrator exceeded the 15‑workday goal in three instances, with the delays ranging from eight workdays to 20 workdays. In one of the three cases, the local administrator exceeded the 15‑workday goal by eight days when submitting a disciplinary determination to Employee Relations. This local administrator stated that the district was already on winter recess at the time he received the investigation report, and after excluding the winter recess, he submitted his decision within 12 workdays. However, LAUSD’s policy does not indicate an exception for winter recess and summer breaks with regard to meeting the 15‑workday time frame for completing disciplinary determinations. In a fourth instance, we identified a case in which the local administrator appeared to take 16 workdays to make a disciplinary determination, exceeding the policy goal by one day. When we asked LAUSD about this case, the Employee Relations director gave us documentation that the Investigation Team did not provide the investigation report to the local administrator until 10 workdays after completing the investigation. Although the local administrator did not violate the 15‑workday time frame, this delay in providing the investigation report to the local administrator further demonstrates the need for better monitoring of open reassignment cases that we discussed earlier.
Once a local administrator submits the reassignment packet containing his or her disciplinary determination to LAUSD for review, it has eight workdays to conduct a case review of the determination. If the local administrator has decided to return the employee to work, Employee Relations conducts a case review of the reassignment packet, in consultation with other departments as appropriate, to ensure that preventive and corrective measures have been implemented before the teacher returns to work. If the local administrator has decided to initiate discipline, including dismissal, LAUSD’s Office of Staff Relations (Staff Relations) conducts the case review instead of Employee Relations.
We noted that other staff members responsible for portions of the reassignment process, such as those in Employee Relations and Staff Relations, also exceeded the time frames established in LAUSD’s reassignment policy. Specifically, as shown in Table 7, of the seven reassignments that required a case review, the district staff was late in completing case reviews in four instances, ranging from three days to 11 days late. The case that was 11 days late is the same case in which the local administrator exceeded the disciplinary determination time frame by eight days because of the winter recess. According to the Employee Relations director, the delay in completing the case review was caused by a transition between the previous and current Employee Relations coordinator, the individual responsible for scheduling case review meetings. The current coordinator’s first day with Employee Relations was one day after the local administrator’s disciplinary determination. These administrative delays not only added to the costs of the reassignment process, but also increased the amount of time that teachers who ultimately returned to the classroom had to deal with the stigma and uncertainty of that process.
Significant Delays in Legal and Administrative Actions Also Postponed Resolutions of Some Reassignments Even After Disciplinary Decisions Had Been Made
Even after LAUSD concluded its investigations of reassigned teachers’ misconduct and reached a disciplinary decision, delays in subsequent activities in the reassignment process contributed to additional months, or sometimes years, that some reassignment cases remained open. We reviewed 15 teacher reassignment cases at LAUSD that had been open for two or more years to determine why these cases remained open. The oldest of these reassignments began in May 2008 and was still open as of June 2016. In reviewing these cases, we identified several points in the process where delays occurred, and some of these delays resulted from a lack of formal processes to monitor the progress of the cases.
The time LAUSD spent investigating the alleged misconduct and reaching disciplinary decisions in these cases contributed to the length of time the reassignments had been open; in some instances, case documentation indicates that this process took more than a year. However, as of January 2014, LAUSD’s reassignment policy changed the parties responsible for completing certain investigations. Specifically, the policy transferred responsibility for complex investigations involving allegations of sexual misconduct to the Investigation Team. We discuss the time it took LAUSD to investigate more recent teacher reassignments in a previous section of this report.
In some of these 15 cases, the delays of more than six months resulted from long waits for hearings and appeals regarding the teachers’ dismissals, both of which are generally beyond LAUSD’s control. After the School Board votes to dismiss a teacher, that teacher has the right to request a hearing at the Office of Administrative Hearings (Hearings office), an independent state entity that, among other responsibilities, presides over a wide variety of disputes, including those involving teacher disciplinary matters. Following that hearing, either the teacher or LAUSD can appeal the Hearings office’s decision and then request a subsequent hearing in court. In nine of the 15 cases reviewed, case notes indicate six months or more of the reassignment periods lapsed while the cases were at the Hearings office or during subsequent legal appeals. Additionally, case notes for two of the cases indicate significant delays because law enforcement requested that LAUSD wait to investigate the allegations until it had concluded criminal investigations. Those notes indicate that one case was delayed by a law enforcement investigation for 10 months and the other case for two years. However, many of the 15 cases also involved significant delays by LAUSD’s General Counsel, Employee Relations, or both.
In nine of the 15 cases, delays in resolving the reassignment took place after responsibility for the case transferred to LAUSD’s General Counsel. Once Staff Relations, which is the LAUSD division responsible for reviewing and forwarding local administrators’ decisions to dismiss reassigned teachers, has sent a reassignment case to the General Counsel, that office is responsible for preparing the case for the School Board to vote on the teacher’s dismissal. Long periods elapsed while the cases were with the General Counsel as it was deciding whether to send the case forward to the School Board for a dismissal vote and preparing those cases it decided to send. In some of these cases, the chief administrative counsel explained that a previous LAUSD superintendent had directed the General Counsel to pursue dismissal for teachers whose accusations of misconduct were more than four years old and therefore LAUSD could not move these cases forward. (State law changed in January 2015 to allow the district to admit evidence more than four years old as part of dismissal proceedings.)
We identified other instances when the delays might have been avoided had the General Counsel better monitored these cases among its overall workload. In one such instance, case notes indicate that LAUSD decided to proceed with dismissal in June 2014. When we asked why the case was still unresolved, an assistant general counsel stated that LAUSD had waited to proceed with submitting the case for a dismissal vote until the California Department of Social Services (Social Services) concluded its investigation of this same teacher because the district’s case essentially involved the same witnesses and evidence and a decision in Social Services’ favor would eliminate the need to move forward with an identical dismissal action.3 Social Services did not prevail and its case was dismissed in December 2015. The assistant general counsel stated that in June 2016 LAUSD drafted charges against that teacher to be brought before the School Board; however, after further evaluation, it decided instead to return the teacher to work. When we followed up with the General Counsel’s office, staff could not explain why LAUSD took another six months to decide to return the teacher to work after waiting for more than a year for Social Services to conclude its investigation. According to the Employee Relations director, the teacher may now return to work but had not been placed at the time of our review in September 2016. In another instance, case notes indicate that nearly eight months passed between the time the case was transferred to the General Counsel and the date on which the School Board voted to dismiss the teacher. The assistant general counsel explained that the case was delayed, in part, because other higher‑priority cases were being prepared before this case.
In six cases, we noted delays of six months or more in returning teachers to work after approval was received to do so. When a teacher is approved to return to work, the case is transferred back to Employee Relations, which is then responsible for processing the teacher’s return to a work site and finding an appropriate assignment. However, Employee Relations failed to place some of these teachers into a classroom in a timely manner. One of the longest such delays involved a teacher for whom the Hearings office dismissed the charges in January 2013 but the teacher was not returned to a classroom until August 2016. When we asked for an explanation about the delays while the case was with Employee Relations, its director stated that staff members met with the teacher in October 2015, but there were no available assignments in either of the two local districts near where the teacher lived. However, she did not provide any other explanation for the delay. We also identified three other teachers who waited five months for placements. All three of those teachers had been placed when we followed up in September 2016.
Unlike other types of leave, reassignment does not give teachers the right to return to their prior classrooms or schools. Therefore, if LAUSD fills the reassigned teacher’s position during the reassignment period, it will have to identify another placement for the teacher if the teacher is cleared to return to work. Further, LAUSD’s tentative contract agreement with its teachers indicates that the district may determine that some reassigned teachers’ previous positions are no longer appropriate for those teachers when they are cleared to return to work. However, because the contract gives LAUSD discretion over teacher placement, albeit with some geographical restrictions, it is LAUSD’s responsibility to use that discretion to place teachers as quickly as possible, not only for financial reasons but also out of an obligation to the teacher.
Implementing formal time frames within which the relevant LAUSD divisions must coordinate and formalize placement plans for returning teachers could help reduce future delays. The Employee Relations director confirmed that currently no such time frames exist, but the staff member responsible for coordinating the placement of returning teachers has been conducting internal meetings about these teachers returning to work as well as meeting with the teachers themselves. However, our review found that in several cases, delays in placing teachers back in classrooms were compounded by months‑long periods between the decision that the teacher would not be dismissed and when the Employee Relations office met with the teacher concerning a placement. One such meeting took place seven months after the General Counsel had decided not to appeal the Hearings office’s ruling to return the employee to work. The Employee Relations director stated that some of these delays resulted from turnover in the leadership of LAUSD’s Human Resources division, within which Employee Relations is situated, and she described two instances in which communications between the General Counsel and Employee Relations delayed teachers’ returns. However, given how long cases can be delayed by legal proceedings that LAUSD cannot always fully control, it is crucial that LAUSD not extend the teacher’s reassignment with avoidable delays in beginning the placement process. A policy that requires Employee Relations staff to meet promptly with teachers who are cleared to return to work after having been reassigned for a long time period and that includes time frames for coordinating with the General Counsel and other LAUSD personnel involved in finalizing those returns could help reduce future delays and better identify timely placement options.
LAUSD Should Take Additional Steps to Ensure That Reassignment Decisions Are Appropriate
LAUSD’s policy is to reassign a teacher when there are credible allegations that the teacher’s alleged misconduct poses a clear threat to the safety of students, staff, or the workplace. While most of the cases we reviewed indicated that a clear safety threat was present when local administrators decided to reassign the teachers, we also identified two cases in which administrators formally reassigned teachers without demonstrating such a threat. Additionally, some local administrators proactively considered how circumstances other than the nature of the misconduct (such as the age of the students affected) may compound or mitigate risk, while others did not indicate that they took these factors into account. Further, some local administrators were unable to provide any documentation demonstrating key facts that led them to their reassignment decisions, in some cases because the information was relayed to them verbally during their investigations. Increased training and guidance for local administrators and other key personnel involved in the reassignment decision may help ensure that formal reassignment is used consistently and only when necessary.
LAUSD Reassigned Some Teachers Without Demonstrating Clear Risks to Safety
Although LAUSD has updated its reassignment policy three times since 2010, each version of the policy, including its August 2015 version, has provided guidance stating that employees are to be reassigned when there are credible allegations of misconduct that threaten the safety of students, staff, or the workplace. As examples of incidents that may require reassignment, the August 2015 policy cites credible allegations of sexual misconduct; acts of workplace violence that threaten or result in serious injury; and any allegations, arrests, or filing of criminal charges against the teacher related to serious criminal acts. Teachers also may be reassigned if their presence disrupts district operations or threatens the integrity of an investigation. The policy states that employees will not typically be reassigned based on performance, competence, or judgment issues unrelated to safety.
The district identified clear safety risks in a majority of the formal reassignment cases we reviewed. LAUSD’s data show that between August 2015, when it updated its policy, and June 2016, local administrators formally reassigned 16 teachers for types of misconduct other than violent or sexual misconduct. We reviewed 11 of these cases as well as 10 more involving alleged violent or sexual misconduct to determine whether the circumstances discovered during the local administrators’ preliminary assessments indicated clear safety risks and therefore warranted a formal reassignment. For all 10 of the cases categorized as involving violent or sexual misconduct, local administrators provided documentation or perspective that made clear that the circumstances indicated that the teachers posed clear risks to student or school safety. This was also true for most of the 11 cases that did not involve allegations of violent or sexual misconduct. For example, in one case, categorized as Other, the related case documentation revealed that the teacher had initially been removed from the classroom for talking about shooting the “annoying kids.” According to the case notes, when the school principal interviewed the teacher as part of the preliminary assessment to determine whether formal reassignment was appropriate, the teacher refused to answer questions regarding whether he had firearms at or near the school or planned to harm himself or others. At the conclusion of the interview, the teacher fled the campus. In response, the local administrator formally reassigned the teacher, indicating school safety concerns. Although the teacher’s actions did not involve any actual violence, the circumstances during the preliminary assessment were compelling that this teacher posed a clear safety risk to the school site.
Although safety risks were evident in many of these cases, we identified two cases in which the documentation and local administrator perspective do not indicate a clear safety risk. In one, a teacher was caught by school police in possession of marijuana in his classroom during a weekend, when students were not on campus. The case notes indicate that it appeared he had been smoking the marijuana onsite. Although this behavior is clearly inappropriate, nothing in the case file explained why the local administrator thought the conduct represented a clear safety risk to students or the school site. When we asked the local administrator about his decision to formally reassign this teacher, he explained that the teacher posed a risk to students because he demonstrated poor judgment. The local administrator stated that he was concerned that if the teacher thought it was all right to smoke marijuana on campus on a weekend, he did not know what else the teacher might do. Although this teacher clearly demonstrated poor judgment, the local administrator’s rationale is not consistent with LAUSD’s policy stating that a teacher should be formally reassigned only if the alleged misconduct presents a clear risk to safety. When we asked the Employee Relations director whether the local administrator’s decision and reasoning were consistent with LAUSD reassignment policy, the director responded yes because there was a strong possibility that the teacher would come to school under the influence and that students might have access to drugs or drug paraphernalia. However, nothing in the case file or the local administrator’s explanation indicates that he believed these specific risks were present or described circumstances that would have led him to believe so. To the contrary, the reasoning he provided again included only general concerns that the teacher’s judgment was poor.
In the other case, the local administrator formally reassigned a teacher after an allegation that the teacher stole information technology equipment belonging to the school. The local administrator stated on the reassignment memo that he was reassigning the teacher because the teacher’s presence at school disrupted district and school operations and the integrity of the investigation. However, nothing else in the case documentation explained why the local administrator believed this. When we asked the local administrator about this case, he stated that he reassigned the teacher because the teacher was alleged to have committed theft, which he deemed a serious crime. In addition, he had concerns that there could be child pornography on the equipment. However, the case documentation related to the preliminary assessment of the allegation does not mention the possibility of child pornography being on the equipment. Additionally, law enforcement had already communicated to the local district that it would not file theft charges against the teacher because of insufficient evidence. We asked the Employee Relations director whether she agreed that formal reassignment in this case was consistent with LAUSD’s reassignment policy. She responded yes because this appeared to be a serious crime, and even though the police had not filed charges and were not investigating, school equipment was found at the teacher’s home and the teacher could potentially remove more equipment if allowed to be at the school site. However, this response does not explain how the teacher posed a safety risk. Additionally, it is unclear how leaving the teacher in the classroom would disrupt school operations and prevent LAUSD from investigating the allegation. Therefore, the local administrator’s and Employee Relations director’s reasoning is inconsistent with LAUSD’s policy to limit reassignment to teachers who pose a clear safety risk or who could undermine the integrity of an investigation or cause disruption.
When local administrators formally reassign teachers who do not pose a clear safety risk to students, staff, or the workplace, those decisions may unnecessarily disrupt classrooms, stigmatize teachers, and cause LAUSD to incur substantial costs. In addition, unnecessary reassignments further increase the workload for LAUSD’s Investigation Team, which, as discussed previously, is experiencing delays caused, in part, by a rapid increase in demand for its services. Without requiring local administrators to more clearly define and document their reasoning as to why reassigned teachers pose safety risks, LAUSD cannot ensure that all reassignments it has made—along with the costs and the disruptive impacts to teachers and students—have been necessary.
Some Administrators Consider Different Factors When Making Reassignment Decisions and Keep Varying Levels of Investigation Records
Some local administrators told us that they consider factors beyond the nature of a teacher’s alleged misconduct when deciding whether to formally reassign a teacher, while other administrators did not. For example, when we spoke to local administrators of cases we reviewed, one specifically mentioned the age of the students affected by the allegations. In one case, the case notes state that an early education teacher allegedly “popped” a student on the mouth multiple times with an open hand and also grabbed the student by the wrists, walked the student around the table, and sat the student down. The local administrator explained that he decided to reassign the teacher because the alleged physical misconduct took place in an early education class with very young students, and he did not want to risk that the teacher would continue this conduct with the students. In a different case, the case notes indicated that a teacher allegedly made inappropriate sexual comments to students. The local administrator told us that he did not formally reassign the teacher, in part because the allegation did not include physical contact and also because it involved high school students, so he did not perceive a danger for the students. However, we reviewed other cases concerning students of varying ages in which there was no indication in the case file documentation or during our discussions with the local administrators that the administrators considered the age or relative vulnerability of the affected students when evaluating safety risks.
We also noted that local administrators did not consistently document or reference whether they considered teachers’ previous conduct when deciding whether to formally reassign them. LAUSD’s reassignment policy specifies that during the initial five‑day assessment of allegations, local administrators are to check the teacher’s files and contact Staff Relations, Employee Relations, and other appropriate offices to identify whether the teacher has been involved in any prior misconduct, including previous discipline issued or served, employment history, and prior allegations. However, the policy does not describe how the local administrators should use this information when determining whether the present allegations against the teacher warrant formal reassignment. In several cases we reviewed, local administrators explained to us or the case notes indicated that they considered a teacher’s past behavior and misconduct allegations and that history led them, in part, to the decision to reassign the teacher. For example, a local administrator stated that she formally reassigned a teacher because he displayed a pattern of unpredictable behavior that caused both students and staff to fear for their safety around him.
In other cases, local administrators did not describe whether they considered teachers’ previous misconduct. We observed instances in both formal reassignments and preliminary assessments when local administrators returned teachers to their class within the initial five days and we found records of these teachers’ previous misconduct in the case files or in LAUSD’s reassignment database, but the administrators did not mention if or how they considered the respective teacher’s history when making their decisions regarding formal reassignment for that teacher. For example, one local administrator formally reassigned a teacher for taking inappropriate pictures of students on campus but did not describe in the case notes taking the teacher’s previous misconduct of annoying and making female students feel uncomfortable into consideration when making his decision. When speaking to a different local administrator about another case, he stated that he planned to review whether the reassigned teacher had a history of similar allegations when considering what disciplinary actions to take, but he did not indicate that the teacher’s history played a part in his decision for reassignment.
Additionally, local administrators were not always able to provide documentation to support the rationale for their decisions. When we asked local administrators to provide us the support they used to make their decisions in cases we reviewed, they sometimes had documentation related to their decisions. However, in other instances, they could not provide supporting documentation because information was relayed to them verbally during their investigations.
Increased Training and Guidance for Local Administrators Could Improve the Consistency and Appropriateness of Reassignment Decisions
LAUSD has not yet provided sufficient training or tools to its local administrators and school site personnel regarding how to ensure consistent identification of safety risks. In June 2016, we asked the Investigation Team’s acting director what LAUSD and his unit do to help local administrators make consistent and appropriate decisions regarding reassignment during the five‑day preliminary assessments. He gave us documentation demonstrating that his unit provided a training session to local administrators in February 2016 as well as some sample investigation questions to assist local district staff with their investigations. The acting director stated, however, that the portions of the training that involved investigation practices were at a high, general level and that he sees a need to provide more detailed training on investigative techniques. Further, he stated that the training was not provided to school principals, even though local administrators told us—and case documentation shows—that principals often assist with the initial five‑day preliminary assessment. He also told us that the Investigation Team plans to provide a revised training on the preliminary assessment to local administrators and school principals and that the training should help reduce the number of formal investigation requests by improving the preliminary assessment and moving forward only those investigations that concern incidents with an impact on safety. As of August 30, 2016, LAUSD had supplied us with documentation of training sessions provided to four of its six local district support teams and three districts’ principals, and it has plans to train the remaining teams and principals.
LAUSD’s reassignment policy does not provide guidance concerning what constitutes a clear safety risk to students or school sites. The policy provides examples of incidents that may require reassignment because they threaten students, staff, or workplace safety, but it does not offer guidance regarding other factors and circumstances that may compound or mitigate the risk a teacher’s alleged misconduct might pose. LAUSD can improve assistance to its local administrators by establishing a risk assessment tool to guide the process and by requiring the administrators to use this tool to document the specific factors they consider when determining whether a teacher’s continued presence constitutes a threat to safety.
When designing the risk assessment tool, LAUSD should consider what factors, beyond the type of misconduct involved, might contribute to or mitigate the safety risks posed by alleged misconduct. Our review of notes in the reassignment case files and discussions with local administrators and LAUSD administrators about the cases indicate that the age of the children, or other vulnerabilities to the alleged misconduct, may be risk factors to consider. Other possible factors could include the teacher’s previous conduct, which some local administrators said they had considered, and also whether the alleged behavior, if found to have occurred, is severe enough to likely warrant the teacher’s dismissal. If enough or sufficiently severe risk factors were present, the risk assessment tool could serve to guide the administrator toward formal reassignment while the district is formally investigating the allegation. In addition to being a resource for local administrators, the risk assessment tool would document the local administrators’ reasoning and would enable LAUSD administrators to review this reasoning to help ensure consistent districtwide application of reassignment decisions. Finally, the tool would enable a decisive record of the reasons for those decisions, thereby eliminating the need for future reviewers to speculate about the factors the decisions were based on.
In Certain Cases, LAUSD Removed Teachers From Classrooms for Extended Periods When Local Administrators Might Have Completed Investigations More Quickly
LAUSD’s policy requiring local administrators to make a decision regarding reassignment within five days may have resulted in longer formal reassignments than necessary in some cases. If local administrators have not completed the preliminary assessment within five workdays, they are to reassign the teacher. As shown in Table 7, in all 21 cases we reviewed for compliance with this policy, local administrators adhered to this five‑day time frame. However, even if LAUSD staff complied with the other time frames for the key processes in the reassignment policy, a teacher’s formal reassignment can take more than half a school year. Further, as we described earlier, LAUSD frequently exceeds these other time frames and is resolving fewer formal reassignments than in the past. In those instances in which local administrators formally reassign teachers because the five‑day preliminary assessment period has expired and not because they have identified a clear risk to students, staff, or workplace safety, the strict enforcement of the five‑day preliminary assessment may contribute to more and longer reassignments than necessary.
During our review of preliminary assessments, we identified two instances in which a local administrator specifically indicated that she reassigned teachers because five days was not enough time to determine the severity or accuracy of the allegations. In one case, the local administrator stated in the reassignment documentation that she reassigned the teacher—who was accused of pulling a child to the ground using the child’s shirt collar—because law enforcement did not clear the principal to conduct an investigation until the fifth day of the five‑day preliminary assessment period and because she observed photos of the alleged injury. However, the case notes state that during the preliminary assessment, one of the child’s relatives came to the school and spoke to the principal. She told the principal that the child sustained the injuries fighting with siblings at home and that she did not believe the teacher would hurt the child. The case notes also indicate that on the fifth day of the preliminary assessment, the local administrator requested a two‑day extension on the preliminary assessment because the photographed injuries did not match the allegation. Nearly seven months after being reassigned, the teacher was ultimately returned to the classroom after being issued an unpaid suspension. In the other case, the local administrator conducted a preliminary assessment of allegations that a teacher pushed a student out of the way and used profanity. Case documentation indicates that while the principal was interviewing witnesses, a different student raised a previously unreported allegation that the same teacher had once slammed that student’s fingers in a door. When we discussed this case with the local administrator, she explained that she decided to formally reassign the teacher because investigating the additional allegation would have taken longer than the five‑day time frame allows. The formal investigation was still ongoing as of our review in early June 2016, having been open at that time for 88 days.
The outcomes of LAUSD’s teacher reassignments also indicate that some cases may benefit from some flexibility around the five‑day time frame. Table 9 shows the outcomes of LAUSD’s data for resolved reassignments for fiscal years 2011–12 through 2015–16. In more than a third of the resolved reassignment cases for the last four of five fiscal years, LAUSD returned the teachers to work as opposed to dismissing them or the teacher resigning. When LAUSD returns a teacher, it may be because it did not substantiate the allegation or, if it did substantiate the allegation, it determined that it could safely place the teacher back in a classroom with corrective action. For the 18 reassignment cases we reviewed going back to fiscal year 2011–12 and discussed in the earlier section on reassignment costs, LAUSD returned seven reassigned teachers to the classroom. Five of these teachers faced lesser forms of discipline, such as a letter of reprimand or suspension. In three of those instances, the case documentation indicates a return to the classroom because of a lack of evidence to substantiate the allegations.
Source: California State Auditor’s analysis of data obtained from Los Angeles Unified School District’s Incident Reporting System Database.
Note: This table reflects data as of June 1, 2016. There were reassignments that remained open from each year as of June 1, 2016.
Refer to Table 4 for the discussion on the reliability of the data presented here.
* Represents individuals who died while formally reassigned.
Local administrators have demonstrated the ability to complete certain investigations quickly. LAUSD’s data indicate that between June 2015—when it began tracking this information—and May 2016, local administrators removed 89 teachers from their classrooms for an initial five days to conduct a preliminary assessment and returned the teachers to their classrooms instead of formally reassigning them. The data indicate that in many cases five days is enough time for local administrators to complete the preliminary assessment. Further, our review of 10 preliminary assessments in which teachers were subsequently returned to class included cases in which local administrators determined that the allegations against teachers were unfounded and cases in which they concluded that misconduct did occur but did not indicate a need to formally reassign the teacher. This lends support to the idea that LAUSD should continue to generally hold local administrators to the current policy time frame of five days. However, some of the formal reassignments we reviewed and discuss earlier in this section indicate that there may be situations in which the five‑day time frame could lead to overall delays in resolving the allegations by forcing local administrators to formally reassign the teachers and transfer the investigation to the Investigation Team. In the resolution referenced by LAUSD’s reassignment policy, the School Board states that delays in determining the legitimacy of the claims against employees are costly to the district, cause undue mental hardship to employees, and are disruptive to students.
LAUSD’s assistant general counsel stated that the five‑day deadline is a key element of the current reassignment process and that allowing extensions may result in initial reassignment periods dragging on to unacceptable lengths. Nonetheless, we noted that none of the other school districts we spoke to as part of our survey indicated that they had an equivalent preliminary removal period after which unresolved cases were automatically transferred to another unit. Instead, some districts we interviewed reported that school administrators either pass more severe cases forward to, or request assistance investigating cases from their central districts if needed, based on the circumstances of the individual case.
Although we understand LAUSD’s concern about preliminary assessments dragging on, we believe some limited flexibility could be beneficial to the district. Under such an approach, local administrators could request a limited extension of a specific duration and explain why the extension is warranted. Based on the facts of the individual case, LAUSD could then approve the extension and monitor the local administrator’s progress, or deny the extension and require that the case be referred to the Investigation Team. In these limited instances, this approach may result in a more timely resolution to the teacher’s removal from the classroom than would be obtained by referring the case to the Investigation Team. The fact that LAUSD’s Investigation Team is facing an increased workload further underscores the importance of using their services only when necessary to ensure school safety.
Improvements to Standard Documents Would Help Ensure Consistent and Effective Communication With Reassigned Teachers
Our review of documents that local administrators are required to provide to reassigned teachers found that teachers received inconsistent levels of detail about the reasons for their reassignments. Because LAUSD was not centrally collecting these forms, it was not aware of the inconsistencies in the local administrators’ practices. LAUSD made changes to the documents and its monitoring process in May 2016 that should allow it to ensure consistency in the future. Additionally, although LAUSD informed us that its teachers were free to voluntarily pursue professional development during reassignments, our review revealed that reassigned teachers may not be aware of that option and have not been pursuing nonmandatory training. To the contrary, we found that wording on documents provided to reassigned teachers may actually discourage them from participating in professional development opportunities.
Local Administrators Did Not Always Provide Consistent Information to Reassigned Teachers
When local administrators remove teachers from the classroom, LAUSD’s reassignment policy requires that they provide teachers with written explanations of the reasons for their reassignment within three days. The policy requires local administrators to provide this written notification through a form letter and supplies a list of recommended brief descriptions that the local administrator can insert into the form letter, if applicable. However, the list does not include all possible reasons for reassignment, and the administrator may also provide other reasons. Examples of these listed reasons include “the use of corporal punishment with students at the school site” and “inappropriately touching a student.” These examples are specific and provide the teacher with an idea of the allegations while also protecting the alleged victims’ identities. However, the list of possible reasons also includes a broadly worded option citing “an ongoing investigation about allegations concerning your conduct or job performance issues.”
Although our review indicated that local administrators were generally prompt in providing teachers these written notices as required, they were inconsistent in the amount of detail they provided to the teachers. For the 21 reassignments we reviewed, local administrators provided the notice within the required three workdays in 18 cases. In one of the three remaining cases, the local administrator provided the notice two days late. In another, the local administrator stated that he met with the teacher to discuss the reassignment but did not provide the notice. In the third case, local district staff members were unable to locate a copy of the notice. In the notices we collected, we observed that the local administrators varied in how frequently they provided specific reasons to the teachers they reassigned. One local administrator provided specific reasons on four of the five notices for cases we reviewed from that local district. For example, the local administrator used “allegation of misconduct involving inappropriate touching of a student” when describing the reason for a teacher’s reassignment. However, most local administrators were consistently vague regardless of the nature of the allegations they were describing. For example, one local administrator cited “conduct or job performance issues” in all three reassignments we reviewed at that local district, all of which were related to sexual misconduct.
Another local administrator was similarly vague in all three cases we reviewed, and the exact wording provided to the reassigned teacher was also difficult to understand. In each communication, the local administrator wrote that the teacher had been reassigned because of an “allegation of misconduct involving allegations concerning your conduct.” As a result of the varying specificity among the local administrators, reassigned teachers received inconsistent levels of information about the reasons for their reassignments. LAUSD’s chief administrative law and litigation counsel stated that the goal is to provide information when possible but, in some cases, a vaguely worded reason may be necessary to protect the integrity of an investigation. However, we believe the district can do a more effective job of ensuring that reassigned teachers are better informed.
LAUSD made revisions to its reassignment policy in May 2016 that address some of the inconsistencies we noted in our review. Before these revisions, Employee Relations, which is responsible for tracking reassignments, did not collect several of the required written communications that local administrators provide to reassigned teachers. The updated policy directs local administrators to send copies of all required communications with the reassigned employee to Employee Relations. When we asked why LAUSD had not previously monitored some of the reassignment documents, the Employee Relations director stated that LAUSD did not initially see a need to collect these communications. However, as a result of requests for these documents from various parties, including our requests, LAUSD determined that it should be collecting all documents related to the reassignment policy. In addition to this change, LAUSD revised the list of standard reasons that local administrators can choose to include in the letters provided to reassigned teachers. In doing so, LAUSD specified that local administrators should use the broadly worded incident description only when the investigating law enforcement agency directs them to not release details.
Language in LAUSD’s Reassignment Documents May Inadvertently Dissuade Reassigned Teachers From Participating in Training
As discussed in the Introduction, school districts reported that it is a common practice for reassigned employees to stay at home while reassigned from their classrooms. According to LAUSD’s associate superintendent for District Operations, a primary reason for this approach is the stigma involved in requiring reassigned employees to report to a central district office. In addition, LAUSD’s contract with its teachers states that all duties required of employees must meet the test of reasonableness. According to LAUSD’s chief administrative law and litigation counsel, assigning teachers office work would not meet this test, but that teachers could be assigned other duties, such as professional development.
However, LAUSD generally does not require its teachers to participate in professional development while reassigned. Because LAUSD teachers’ job descriptions include professional development and because the School Board has stated that reassigned teachers should be actively engaged in professional development, we asked whether LAUSD requires reassigned teachers to pursue training during their reassignments, such as through the online Learning Zone system, LAUSD’s professional development and training portal. According to the Employee Relations director, LAUSD decided against requiring additional training during reassignment for two reasons. First, she stated that monitoring such requirements would require resources that would outweigh the benefit to the district. The Employee Relations director also stated that LAUSD does not require training for reassigned teachers because doing so would carry legal risks. Specifically, she stated that in the context of a contentious employment relationship, there is potential for meritless employment law claims if the district makes the teacher’s home into his or her place of work. The Employee Relations director specifically cited workers’ compensation claims as one such liability. Among the California public school districts we surveyed, some districts had similar concerns about the legal implications of employees’ homes functioning as their workplace.
Reassigned LAUSD teachers are allowed to participate in training voluntarily, but our review indicated that they do not. The Employee Relations director stated that reassigned teachers can voluntarily pursue online training through the Learning Zone. However, when we reviewed the training records for a selection of 18 employees who were reassigned from one month to three years, we found that none had completed any nonmandatory training during their reassignments, even though one of those reassignments was about three years long. That teacher, who was reassigned from August 2012 through August 2015, completed only the annual mandatory training.
LAUSD’s teachers may not be aware that they are allowed to pursue professional development. Although the Employee Relations director stated that voluntary training is permissible, some local administrators—who are responsible for overseeing communication with reassigned teachers—told us that they do not make voluntary training a point of emphasis during these communications. One local administrator stated that his district allows reassigned employees to complete only the annual mandated training. Further, one of the standard documents that a reassigned teacher receives states that the teacher is not to perform any services for the district or students relating to his or her former assignment or any other work for the district. This language may lead teachers to believe they should refrain from pursuing training or professional development. By including language in its official reassignment documents that voluntary training is allowed and by directing local administrators to emphasize that point during standard conversations with reassigned teachers, LAUSD may increase the likelihood that reassigned teachers will undertake training and provide some value to the district while on paid leave.
The Methods LAUSD Uses to Monitor Substitute Teaching Assignments Have Not Prevented Substitutes From Serving Longer Than Permitted
LAUSD faces a challenge in covering the gap in instruction created when teachers are reassigned for extended periods; although consistent instruction is important for the learning environment of students, state law and regulations limit how long some substitutes may serve in classrooms. According to local administrators, although LAUSD does not monitor the effect of teacher reassignments on the students in those classrooms, the district attempts to reduce the effect of formal reassignments by assigning credentialed long‑term substitutes to reassigned teachers’ classrooms. When describing its reasoning for regulations proposed in 2016, Teacher Credentialing stated that rotating through a series of substitutes during a teacher’s extended leave can result in an inconsistent and inadequate learning environment. However, state law and regulations prohibit certain substitutes from serving in the same classroom for more than 30 school days in a single year. For special education classrooms, the law limits these substitutes from serving more than 20 school days per year in a single classroom. These limits apply to substitutes who have an Emergency 30‑Day Substitute Teaching Permit (emergency permit) as well as those who are credentialed but do not have the right credential for the type of classroom in which they substituting. For instance, a substitute holding a standard elementary teaching credential may serve in an elementary special education classroom or a high school science classroom for only 20 days or 30 days, respectively.
Summary of Los Angeles Unified School District Priority Order for Obtaining Substitute Teacher Types
- Contract pool teachers
- Substitute teachers (substitutes) requested by name and employee number from preferred substitute calling list
- Day‑to‑day substitutes:
– Available five days per week, in order of seniority
– Available at least two consecutive days per week but less than five days, in order of seniority
- Teachers who have classroom assignments but whose classes are not in session, ranked in order of availability and seniority
- Substitutes on a standby list
Sources: Los Angeles Unified School District’s policy guide for substitute assignments.
LAUSD’s policy is to replace absent teachers with substitutes that provide a consistent quality of instruction for the students and are appropriately credentialed when assigned for longer than 20 days. The district’s policy guide instructs teachers and principals to identify substitutes based on the substitute’s credential and subject matter expertise, previous successful service at the school site, and their ability to provide instruction at the highest level of consistency with the regular classroom teacher. The policy also describes its approach to filling temporary classroom vacancies created by teacher absences, including teacher reassignments.
As the text box shows, LAUSD’s approach focuses on prioritizing the most qualified and stable substitute instruction possible. Further, LAUSD’s policy states that if a substitute is in an extended assignment—one longer than 20 consecutive days—the substitute must hold a valid credential for the level and subject being taught.
In some instances, LAUSD has kept substitutes in classroom assignments longer than state law and regulations permit. Among the 18 reassignments we reviewed as part of our cost evaluation, going back to fiscal year 2011–12, nine lasted long enough for limits on substitute assignments to apply—20 or 30 school days, depending on classroom type. Collectively, these nine assignments lasted 98 school days. Among those reassignments, we identified four instances in which substitutes remained in the classroom longer than permitted. The four instances exceeded the allowable time frame by between six and 160 school days and together accounted for 213 school days during which a substitute was in a class inappropriately, corresponding to 22 percent of the 987 total school days. The six‑day violation was the most recent we observed and occurred in the fall of fiscal year 2014–15, when LAUSD had an emergency permit substitute in a biology classroom for six days longer than permitted. The majority of the 213 school days were because of a credentialed substitute assigned to a special education classroom for longer than permitted; however, LAUSD also improperly kept emergency substitutes in classrooms for 53 of those school days. As a result, during these reassignments LAUSD was out of compliance with requirements and provided instruction to students of reassigned teachers beyond the limits the State’s educational standards prescribe.
LAUSD’s efforts to monitor the length of time that substitutes serve are not sufficient to reliably prevent them from serving too long. According to the co‑lead chief human resources officer, since 2014 the district has monitored the length of extended substitutes’ time in classrooms monthly by reviewing database reports from its SubFinder system, a system LAUSD uses to track substitute assignments. Further, she stated that LAUSD will notify school administrators when substitute lengths are nearing or have exceeded the service limits and direct them to replace the substitute.
However, this approach is neither fully preventive nor complete. LAUSD’s monthly monitoring is not performed frequently enough to reliably and efficiently prevent violations. Because the limits of service are 20 or 30 days, and there are about 17 school days in a month, the district would have to notify principals monthly regarding nearly every special education assignment—and any regular education assignment lasting at least 13 days—in order to give principals advance notice that the substitutes in these assignments may exceed the legal limits before the next time LAUSD performs a review. As a result, LAUSD is forced to choose between notifying principals about a large number of substitutes each month or risking that those substitutes may exceed time limits. According to LAUSD’s substitute unit assistant director, the district performs its monitoring monthly and not more frequently because the SubFinder system is difficult to work with and makes more frequent monitoring so time consuming as to be cost‑prohibitive.
The frequency of these reviews notwithstanding, reviewing substitute assignments with SubFinder does not guarantee that LAUSD will be able to identify all such assignments that are active at any given time. We identified 13 instances in which substitutes we reviewed were not recorded in the SubFinder system. One of these gaps lasted 55 school days, and another lasted 48 school days, while the remaining instances lasted only 12 or fewer school days. LAUSD’s policy requires the use of SubFinder to fill all substitute assignments. However, the co‑lead chief human resources officer stated that principals are able to hire substitutes without using SubFinder, and they sometimes do. Also, she stated that some of these substitute record gaps are explained by schools reassigning students to other classrooms or covering classrooms by assigning extra periods to faculty staff members.
LAUSD has recently begun using a new tracking system called Smart Find, but it alone will not resolve all of the issues we identified. According to the assistant director, Smart Find allows the district to more easily track substitute assignment lengths, and in June 2016 LAUSD began using Smart Find to monitor substitute assignments weekly instead of its previous monthly approach using SubFinder. However, according to the co‑lead chief human resources officer, although Smart Find will enable the district to better track substitute assignments, it does not resolve the problem of principals requesting substitutes directly without entering the assignments into the system. As a result, increased frequency of monitoring alone will not ensure that all substitute assignments are recorded and monitored. LAUSD’s goal should be to prevent substitutes from staying too long in classes, as opposed to identifying when they have already stayed too long, and formalizing its new practice of monitoring Smart Find weekly would help it achieve this goal. However, because there continue to be substitute assignments that are not registered in that system, there is also a need for LAUSD to take additional steps as part of that monitoring process to confirm that all substitute assignments for reassigned teachers are entered into the Smart Find system once the teacher is formally reassigned.
To help reduce the impacts of removing teachers from classrooms because of alleged misconduct, LAUSD should take the following steps by April 2017:
To ensure that LAUSD is adequately monitoring compliance with key time frames of its reassignment policy, begin using its new database to report on how long reassignments have taken to move through the various steps in its policy or begin reporting on all key time frames by another means. LAUSD should also establish procedures to periodically monitor each key decision point throughout the reassignment process to ensure that responsible parties meet the time frames it has set for resolving teacher reassignments.
To avoid significant delays in returning reassigned teachers to work, develop written procedures to guide staff in identifying appropriate placement options. These procedures should include time frames by which relevant LAUSD personnel including, but not limited to, Employee Relations and the General Counsel, are to meet with one another to ensure an appropriate and timely placement. In cases in which the teacher has been reassigned for a long time, such as in cases returning from the Hearings office, the procedure should also establish time frames by which LAUSD meets with the teacher to discuss the teacher’s placement preferences.
To improve the consistency of its formal reassignments, develop a comprehensive risk evaluation tool to guide its local administrators in determining whether allegations against a teacher represent a clear risk to students or district personnel. LAUSD’s evaluation tool should consider factors such as a teacher’s prior behavior, the vulnerability of affected students, and the complexity of the allegations.
To minimize the number of reassignment investigations unnecessarily referred to its Investigation Team, revise its policy to allow local administrators, in certain circumstances and with sufficient justification, to request small, specific additional amounts of time to complete their initial investigations and possibly avoid formal reassignments. When it grants additional time to a local administrator, LAUSD should continue to closely monitor the local administrator’s activities until its preliminary investigation is complete.
To ensure that local administrators are providing appropriate and consistent information to reassigned teachers regarding the reasons for their reassignments, develop procedures to periodically review the documents it began collecting under its May 2016 policy revision and determine whether those documents are consistent with its policy and with the facts of the individual reassignments.
To ensure that it clearly informs reassigned teachers that they may voluntarily pursue professional development during their reassignments, including online training through LAUSD’s Learning Zone program, revise the language in its standard reassignment documents.
To ensure that substitutes do not exceed assignment time limits that state law and regulations have established, formalize its recent practice of reviewing assignments of substitutes in its Smart Find system weekly. As part of this formalized practice, LAUSD should review open teacher reassignments to ensure that the Smart Find system includes all substitute assignments for those teachers.
1 According to the California Education Code sections 44940 and 44940.1, if a teacher is charged with certain serious criminal offenses, the district that employs the teacher must place the teacher on unpaid leave. According to LAUSD’s data and the cases we reviewed as part of this audit, this happens infrequently. Go back to text
2 When we began our review in March 2016, investigations were complete for only seven of the 21 reassignments we selected for our review. By the time we completed our review of these reassignments in June 2016, the Investigations Team had completed two more investigations, which we indicate in Table 8. Go back to text
3 According to case notes, the teacher in this case was an employee of an early education center. Social Services investigated this case because it licenses these centers. Go back to text