The Los Angeles Board of Education has voted to fire renowned elementary school teacher Rafe Esquith amid allegations of misconduct, including that he inappropriately touched minors, according to The Los Angeles Times.
Esquith, known for his passionate and uncompromising teaching style, has taught at Hobart Elementary School in Los Angeles for 30 years. He is also the author of several influential books on teaching, including Real Talk for Teachers and Teach Like Your Hair’s on Fire.
Esquith was suspended from the classroom in April after a colleague expressed concern about a joke he made to his students in reference to nudity in a passage he was reading aloud from Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
The complaint prompted the district to launch a misconduct investigation, which reportedly revealed more serious allegations. During their inquiry, according to the Times, district officials said they were investigating claims of inappropriate touching of minors and other sexual improprieties before and during Esquith’s career, dating back forty years. The district also stated that other allegations involved “ethical and district policy” violations related to his nonprofit, the Hobart Shakespeareans.
Esquith has repeatedly denied the allegations against him. He has already filed a lawsuit against the district seeking damages for defamation, emotional distress, and age discrimination. The lawsuit claims that stress from the investigation prompted Esquith’s recent hospitalization for thrombosis, according to the L.A. School Report.
Esquith’s attorney, Mark Geragos, intends to file a separate class-action suit this week “on behalf of thousands of teachers who all attest to the pattern and practice of the District to gin up false complaints to divest teachers of their benefits as they near retirement age,” according to a quote obtained by the Times.
After his suspension, Esquith received strong support from educators, parents, and former students, with many saying the district had overreacted to mere joke and calling for his reinstatement. Despite the reported new revelations, some supporters are coming to his defense yet again. One commenter writes, “Rafe is the arguably and demonstrably the best and most dedicated 5th grade teacher in the world - and the world has noticed, but not the Board.”
UPDATE, Oct. 16: On Thursday, attorney Mark Geragos filed a class action lawsuit against L.A. Unified seeking $1 billion in damages on behalf of Esquith and about 2,000 teachers, according to the L.A. Times. The lawsuit claims that the district deprived teachers of $500,000 in retirement benefits by making up false charges and unlawfully placing them on administrative leave.
“Mostly he wanted to teach,” Geragos said. “That’s not going to happen anymore—not at Hobart, not by L.A. Unified—and he wants to never let this happen to any other teacher.”
The new accusations aren’t swaying Esquith’s supporters. Jay Mathews, an education columnist for the Washington Post, is one of the teacher’s high-profile defenders; he stated in a Thursday column that he doesn’t think Esquith could ever be guilty of any of the “fuzzy” accusations.
“I have been in Esquith’s classroom many times, seen his joyful multi-media plays, interviewed him for hours and talked to his wife, many of his students and educators he has mentored,” Mathews said. “I have never detected a trace of improper behavior ... This is a classic witch hunt.”
A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.