Law & Courts

Renowned Educator Rafe Esquith, Fired for Misconduct, Returns to a Classroom

By Madeline Will — July 15, 2016 2 min read
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The nationally renowned elementary teacher Rafe Esquith, who was fired by the Los Angeles Board of Education last year amid allegations of misconduct, is back in a classroom, according to a Washington Post column.

Esquith, who was celebrated for his passionate teaching style and who wrote popular books, like Teach Like Your Hair’s on Fire, was suspended last spring after joking that his fifth graders might have to perform in their next Shakespeare play naked if they didn’t raise enough money for the production—a reference to a passage in Huckleberry Finn, which the class was reading.

The Los Angeles school district then launched a misconduct investigation, which allegedly revealed allegations of inappropriate touching of minors, among other sexual improprieties and district policy violations. Esquith repeatedly denied the allegations against him, and filed a lawsuit against the district seeking damages for defamation, emotional distress, and age discrimination. The district asked a state court to dismiss the case, but on Wednesday, a Los Angeles Superior Court judge ruled that Esquith’s case could continue.

Esquith has been silent for months, but today, Jay Mathews, an education columnist for the Washington Post and one of Esquith’s high-profile defenders, wrote that Esquith revealed in an email to supporters that he was now teaching in a private program after school and on weekends. Esquith did not reveal the location or sponsorship of the program.

Esquith said in the email that elementary students in the program were reading four Shakespeare plays in addition to Great Expectations, and that he would be reviving his annual series of Shakespearean plays. His Shakespearean plays for elementary students were well-known, with his mostly low-income and immigrant students opening for the Royal Shakespeare Company and appearing at the Globe Theater in London. They were also the subjects of a 2005 documentary, “The Hobart Shakespeareans.”

“Esquith is the kind of person for whom teaching is as important and as natural as breathing,” Mathews wrote. “The school board that removed him and other educators should be forced to stop making judgments out of fear and remember their job is to give children the best education possible.”

Esquith’s attorneys also filed a class-action federal lawsuit on behalf of about 2,000 teachers, charging that the Los Angeles district has unfairly targeted veteran teachers on trumped-up claims of misconduct. The district had ramped up its investigations of misconduct in 2014 after an elementary school teacher, Mark Berndt, pled no contest on 23 charges of sexual misconduct toward students and was sentenced to 25 years in prison—costing the district $139 million in settlements to the victims.

Esquith’s class-action lawsuit, which is seeking $1 billion in damages, is still pending.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.