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With 83 new cases, state agency scrambles to deal with flood of LAUSD misconduct reports

Protestors march near Miramonte Elementary School in Los Angeles, California February 6, 2012.
Protestors march near Miramonte Elementary School in Los Angeles, California February 6, 2012.
AFP/AFP/Getty Images

California's teacher credentialing commission is scrambling to deal with a major increase in teacher misconduct reports that has forced staff to work weekends, restructure its processes, revamp its website and recruit law students for help. Of the LAUSD cases that have been filed since the start of an internal investigation, 83 have not been previously reported.

Between Feb. 22 and March 2, the Commission on Teacher Credentialing received 110 reports from LAUSD, a big increase in reporting since there were a total of 210 opened cases in 2010-11, said Nanette Rufo, general counsel and director of the Division of Professional Practices in a report to the commission Thursday. 

"It’s a substantial increase in workload for us," Rufo said in an interview. "At this point in time we don’t have an estimate from the school district about how many reports they’ll be sending us."

Superintendent John Deasy began an internal investigation into the district's reporting practices after it was discovered that a former Miramonte Elementary School teacher accused of lewd acts on children had not been properly reported to the commission.

On Feb. 22, Deasy said every report of teacher misconduct would be filed for refiled with the commission to ensure none had slipped through the cracks.

Rufo said in an interview that the commission lacks the jurisdiction under state law to open an investigation into 33 of the 110 cases, but the remaining 77 are open cases.

The commission surveyed 30 of the cases and found half of them dealt with physical abuse of a student, another 25 percent involved inappropriate touching, sexually harrasing comments or an inappropriate relationship with a student, Rufo said in her report to the commission.

The commission has taken several steps to deal with the increase in reports. It has changed its intake procedures for district cases by bringing attorneys into the review process at the front end to determine whether the commission has the authority to start an investigation early on, Rufo said.

It also revamped its website on March 1 to highlight information for school district reports.

"We’re also seeing a significant increase in calls we’re seeing from school districts wanting to clarify their reporting requirements," Rufo said. "That’s one reason we wanted to modify the website to put the information in most easily accessible places."

Nine staff members began working overtime Saturday because of the extra filings, Rufo said. She said she expects more weekend work and overtime during the week.

The commission has 165 authorized positions and 31 in the Division of Professional Practices, which handles educator discipline. Two staffers were brought in from another division to also help with the increased workload, Rufo said.

A new project team will be established as soon as possible to handle the new volume of district cases and will include the commission's most experienced special investigator as team leader, one of four senior legal analysts, and between five and 10 law students brought on as graduate student assistants, Rufo said. The commission is recruiting for those positions now.

The commission's technology staff has been in contact with LAUSD technology staff to make the transfer of information more efficient, Rufo said. The commission will also be bringing in a high speed scanner to assist in getting documents into the database more quickly. (L.A. Unified is having its school principals go through all its credentialed and classified employee files for reports that may not have been made to the district and scan those documents to send to district officials.)

"This is our immediate response, based on what we know to date," Rufo told the commission. "Because LAUSD has just undertaken this effort, we do not know the number or extent of cases that will come to the commission. Depending on the volume of district cases, the commission may need additional resources."

Any request for more resources would go through the normal state budget process, Rufo said.

Gov. Jerry Brown's proposed budget includes a cut to 17 commission positions — none of which would come out of the professional practices division, said spokeswoman Anne Padilla. Rufo said overtime currently fits within the commission's resources. The commission's 2011-12 operating budget is $20.2 million; it is funded by revenue from the $55 credential fees and fees paid by people taking the exams required for credentials.

According to the state code of regulations and the education code, when certain actions have been taken against a teacher, such as a dismissal, the superintendent is required to inform the state's Commission on Teacher Credentialing of the change in employment status no more than 30 days after the action.

When the commission is notified it then has the ability to investigate and recommend a particular case go forward to its Committee of Credentials for review. During this process the committee can decide to take action against the teacher in various ways for unprofessional conduct, including a private admonition, as well as suspending or revoking the credential.

L.A. Unified has reported 170 cases to the commission from Feb. 22 through March 9, said district spokesman Thomas Waldman. He could not specify how many cases the district would ultimately submit.

"We're reporting all cases that appear to meet reporting criteria," Waldman said. "We're going to be going through hundreds of cases individually."

A spokesperson with L.A. Unified could not be immediately reached for comment.

This story has been updated.

Tami Abdollah can be reached via email and on Twitter (@latams).