Education Matters

Attorneys for famed teacher Rafe Esquith criticize release of documents

Attorneys for nationally recognized teacher Rafe Esquith on Wednesday criticized the release of disciplinary records that provided the first extensive details of allegations against the educator, calling them “discredited and baseless.”

The comments came a day after the Los Angeles Times published details of the school district’s months-long investigation into Esquith. The records were obtained through the California Public Records Act.

The documents include allegations that Esquith fondled children in the 1970s before he was a teacher, as well as more recent claims of inappropriate emails with students, an allegation that he touched a student on her buttocks and had improper pictures and videos on his computer.

Some of those email exchanges were between Esquith, who was a fifth-grade teacher at Hobart Boulevard Elementary School, and former students when they were teenagers. In some of those, he said: “you’re soooooooooooooooo fine,” “How’s my favorite Hottie?” and “You are a Goddess.”

Esquith, who was fired from the district in October, has not been charged with a crime. He did not appeal his termination, according to district officials.

Attorneys Mark Geragos and Ben Meiselas have repeatedly accused the district of retaliating against Esquith for filing a class-action lawsuit that alleges age discrimination and violations of due process and whistle-blower protections.

In a joint statement Wednesday, they chastised the district for releasing what they called “discredited and baseless allegations with no validation in law or any court” and saying that it “reflects the depths of retaliation and retribution from LAUSD on its last throes of existence.”

“No student, or parent -- to this day -- has ever made any allegation against Mr. Esquith,” the attorneys said in the statement. “In fact, LAUSD’s hit squad invaded the homes and colleges of these students demanding that they say something negative about Mr. Esquith and threatening to return if they did not. The students had nothing negative to say.”

The attorneys called on the district to release all documents related to Esquith's case, including internal L.A. Unified emails and more information on the team that conducted the investigation. 

Esquith’s attorneys accused the district of hacking into the educator’s private email account. They also claimed that the portions of the emails released were out of context.

David Holmquist, general counsel for L.A. Unified, said Esquith was informed of the allegations against him before the district decided to fire him. He also said L.A. Unified told Esquith that it would be releasing the documents, giving him an opportunity to dispute the disclosure in court.

“We didn’t write these emails. He did. And we didn’t do any hacking,” Holmquist said Wednesday. “We got all this information off of his district computer.” 

Holmquist said the district reported the full set of allegations to the California Teacher Credentialing Commission in November.

L.A. Unified Supt. Ramon C. Cortines said Wednesday that six months ago, he would have found allegations against such a teacher as Esquith hard to believe.

“Yet the evidence was there and yet when we said that we were going to do something about it, the school district was highly criticized,” he said. “And now it has been proven that the school district, indeed, did handle it correctly.”

District investigators launched an inquiry into Esquith after an educator complained in March about a joke he made to students about nudity. The investigation quickly grew to include additional allegations of misconduct.

Esquith was removed from his fifth-grade classroom in April, sparking outrage from supporters. The instructor had drawn national accolades for his teaching techniques, directing rousing performances of Shakespeare from his students and for his best-selling books, which became models for educating children.

District officials who had offered few details of the investigation released documents to the Los Angeles Times this week, nearly two months after the newspaper filed the records request.

The disciplinary documents, which recommended Esquith’s termination, included allegations that he fondled three children in the 1970s and sent inappropriate emails laced with innuendoes.

“Hey beautiful…another terrific day…hope you are well and are getting ready for a sleepover,” read one email sent to a 14-year-old former student in July 2013.

In a January 2012 email, he writes to another former student: “Top Ten reasons you are NOT coming this Saturday. 1. I spank really hard!!! Your bottom will hurt for months…”

He writes to the same student, “So you want diamond earrings? I will start saving (really!) Nothing is too good for the girl who teaches the torches to burn bright.”

He also appears to be paying for tuition and books for a former student, and calls himself "your favorite ATM." 

In December 2012, Esquith responded to an email from a former student thanking him for an iPad he had given her as a gift, documents show. He wrote, “Hey Beautiful, I am so glad you like it. I think it will really help you in so many ways. And you DO deserve this. As long as you can stand it, you are stuck with me. I love you so much and am always VERY proud of you.”

According to the documents, in April 2015 Esquith said he never received a district-issued iPad but, when shown his signature, he acknowledged that he had received one. Esquith said his classroom had been burglarized and the iPad was stolen but he did not report the theft. The documents do not make clear if the iPad was the same one he allegedly gave to the student.

For more education news, follow @zahiratorres on Twitter.

Copyright © 2017, Los Angeles Times

UPDATED

8:58 p.m.: This article was updated with comments from L.A. Unified Supt. Ramon C. Cortines.

7:24 p.m.: This article was updated with more information from the documents regarding an iPad.

This article was originally published at 5:00 p.m.

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