Friday, May 8, 2009

Wasted Time: Teachers' Termination Dispute

Following the uproar raised by the Los Angeles Unified School District’s (LAUSD) dilemma over the laborious and expensive process of firing substandard permanent teachers, Matthew Kim, a former special education teacher at Grant High School fights back and alleges that he is a victim of disability discrimination.

Kim, 41, has been on administrative leave since 2002 along with full pay and benefits while waiting for the resolution of his case. He’s been charged with inappropriate behavior and sexually harassing two aides and six students. The school district has spent nearly $2 million dollars as the case has dragged on for seven years.

A state panel that oversees contested teacher dismissals has ordered him returned to the classroom twice, having found no evidence that Kim was a bad teacher or had injured his students. But L.A. Unified officials have appealed.

Bound to a wheelchair and diagnosed with cerebral palsy, Kim maintains that he is innocent and that the school principal and the district discriminated against him. Kim said that the principal doesn’t like him and the school has been slow to provide wheelchair accessible facilities and a personal aide. A case of discrimination against the school was filed and lost by Kim, whose mother even took a $130,000 against her house to pay for the case.

About 160 teachers are currently receiving full pay and benefits, District Superintendent Ramon C. Cortines said that these teachers should be fired because according to him, they are “milking the system”.

Kim on the other hand, just wants to resume his career. "I want to go back to the classroom.”

This whole situation just underscores the reason why the existing process for terminating tenured teachers should be overhauled. Not just for the sake of students, schools, or taxpayer’s money but also to help these teachers embroiled in these cases move on.

The teachers unions’ concerns are certainly understandable—the teachers’ rights and interests as employees should be protected. But, not at the cost of putting these teachers’ lives and careers on hold or use up government resources just to engage in an endless tug of war over termination cases.

It’s a just waste.