Famed teacher Rafe Esquith sued the Los Angeles school district Thursday as officials released new abuse allegations against the fifth-grade instructor.
Esquith, who earned renown for introducing his Hobart Boulevard Elementary students to Shakespeare, alleged that the district mishandled an investigation into misconduct charges against him.
The veteran teacher was removed from his classroom in April. The probe began when a colleague expressed concern about a joke Esquith made to his students. Since then, the investigation has expanded to include a review of Esquith’s theatrical nonprofit and allegations that he abused a boy more than 40 years ago.
Esquith, 61, has denied wrongdoing.
L.A. Unified disclosed Thursday that its inquiry now involves the inappropriate touching of minors both before and during Esquith’s teaching career and that multiple photos of a sexual nature were found on his school computer.
In correspondence to Esquith’s attorneys, released by the district, officials said that the investigation “has revealed serious allegations of highly inappropriate conduct involving touching of minors before and during Mr. Esquith’s time at the School District.”
The letter also claims the investigation “revealed multiple inappropriate photographs and emails of a sexual nature” on his school computer as well as email correspondence with students that was “inconsistent” with the district’s code of conduct. The letter also referred to allegations of “threats to a parent and two students.”
In addition, the district said there were “possible ethical and District policy violations” related to Esquith’s nonprofit, the Hobart Shakespeareans.
One of Esquith’s attorney’s, Mark Geragos, called the allegations outrageous.
“I would have thought rational minds would have come to their senses, but they are so frustrated by the fact that every one of their allegations, and the things they want to gin up, came up as a dry hole,” Geragos said.
The attorney added that he had seen the letter with detailed allegations only because a reporter had forwarded it to him. He said that as of Thursday afternoon, he had not yet received the letter from L.A. Unified.
Esquith's suit seeks his return to school as well as damages for alleged defamation, intentional infliction of emotional distress, retaliation and age discrimination. According to the litigation, stress from the investigation led to Esquith’s recent hospitalization for thrombosis.
The suit also characterized one motivation for the investigation as retaliation for Esquith “consistently and publicly opposing many of LAUSD’s wasteful policies and practices.”
The litigation accuses the nation’s second-largest school system of stealing more than $100,000 worth of materials from Esquith’s classroom.
The last claim related to a search of Esquith’s Room 56, a classroom that has become known to admirers around the world through films, articles and his books. The suit alleges that the district seized “approximately $100,000 in musical instruments and educational materials, 30 laptop computers, hundreds of copies of classical literature and other items belonging to students and paid for by donated funds.”
The district has denied treating the teacher unfairly, saying that it is engaged in a complex investigation that requires painstaking, time-consuming work.
A spokeswoman said the removal of items from Esquith’s classroom related to a “corrective action notice” from the district’s Office of Environmental Health and Safety — to put the room in compliance with health and safety guidelines.
The investigation began as a review of a report on a joke about nudity — a reference to a passage in “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.” Esquith has defended the joke as a literary reference that his students at Hobart Boulevard Elementary were knowledgeable enough to understand.