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Frances Eisenberg; Teacher Challenged Firing

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Frances R. Eisenberg, who was dismissed as a Los Angeles high school teacher in 1953 for refusing to answer questions about membership in the Communist Party, has died. She was 91.

Eisenberg, who tutored privately after she was fired, died Tuesday in her West Hollywood home of complications after surgery.

Even though Eisenberg and many other teachers in the Los Angeles Unified School District signed loyalty oaths, they were summarily dismissed for refusing to answer questions about Communism posed by the Board of Education. The firings then were legal under the state’s Dilworth Act.

But Eisenberg and five others were vindicated in 1981 by a Los Angeles Superior Court judge who said they should have been reinstated in 1968--the year the Board of Education repealed its regulation for implementing the Dilworth Act. The judge also ordered the school district to give the teachers some back pay.

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Eisenberg had been a distinguished teacher of English and journalism at Canoga Park High School for 16 years and at Fairfax High School for seven. She said getting fired came as “a terrible blow.”

“Our position was that we were loyal,” Eisenberg told The Times in 1981. “We had signed loyalty oaths to support the United States and the state of California in good faith. We felt the investigation was an invasion of privacy and a violation of our constitutional rights.”

A board committee had cleared the teachers of any wrongdoing, she said.

“But the board was not satisfied,” she added, “because this was the era when they wanted to drum up this hysteria. So the board called another committee hearing. Then we were dismissed.”

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Eisenberg’s story was chronicled in a book by Martha Kransdorf titled “A Matter of Loyalty: the Los Angeles Board of Education vs. Frances Eisenberg.”

Eisenberg had spent the last 30 years living in the West Hollywood area and was a key organizer of senior citizens in the 1984 campaign for cityhood. She was active in the Coalition for Economic Survival and, from its inception in 1987, in the West Hollywood Senior Advisory Council.

The city last year presented her with an Angels Amidst award for her community work.

In 1995, Eisenberg raised $2,100 for public radio station KPFK-FM (90.7) by requesting donations as gifts in celebration of her 90th birthday. She said that, because of her impaired vision, she relied heavily on public radio as a source of information.

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