Give LAUSD teacher Rafe Esquith a break

Give LAUSD teacher Rafe Esquith a break
LUSD teacher Rafe Esquith asks a question of his fifth grade Hobart Elementary School class in August of 2005. (Los Angeles Times)

The Los Angeles Unified School District decided to come down hard on the wrong teacher.

That's the sense reading the few dozen letters written in support of nationally acclaimed teacher Rafe Esquith since The Times first reported last week on his suspension from the classroom. The letters, mostly from teachers and students, express anger that such an effective, indefatigable presence in the LAUSD would be put through the district's lengthy disciplinary process for (according to Esquith's lawyer) reading a passage by Mark Twain that might make someone blush.

To Esquith's supporters, the LAUSD's actions are emblematic of a district that lurches between dangerous neglect (the child abuse scandal at Miramonte Elementary School) and bureaucratic overreach (Esquith).

-- Paul Thornton, letters editor

Alan Pulner of Los Angeles lauds Esquith's dedication:

As a colleague of Esquith at Hobart Boulevard Elementary School, an all-Title I school (meaning that all our students come from economically disadvantaged backgrounds), I can attest to the fact that he dedicates more of his life to his students than most of us consider humanly possible.

For example, one Saturday afternoon, I happened to bump into Esquith at a music supply store. He had personally brought about a dozen students there for instrumental music lessons. He had raised the money so these students could have the opportunities normally given only to more privileged children. After working about 12 hours a day, he was still giving his time to his students.

Esquith's removal from the classroom has academically and emotionally hurt his fifth grade students. I sincerely hope to see him back in Room 56 by August.

Judi Birnberg of Sherman Oaks attests to the harmlessness of "Huckleberry Finn":

Poor Mark Twain can get no rest. Once again he is spinning in his grave because an outstanding teacher dared to read a passage from "Huckleberry Finn."

I read "Huckleberry Finn" when I was in third grade. Granted, I saw more in the book when I read it again later, but nothing in it warped me or caused harm. Even as a third grader, I realized that the world Twain was describing was not the one I lived in. I found the book funny, exciting, sad and memorable. What more could a child hope for in a literary work?

May the LAUSD come to its senses and fully reinstate Esquith with whatever compensation he is due.

Huntington Beach resident Ben Miles isn't surprised:

I wish I could write of my surprise at the strangely oppressive treatment of Esquith. But having taught in the LAUSD for several years during the 1980s, and being subject to the negativity inherent in its bureaucracy, I see the district's modus operandi of depersonalization and stonewalling continues unabated.

What is it that keeps the district so insensitive and out of touch? We must come to terms with this question if we are to challenge and change this longstanding dynamic of dysfunction within the LAUSD.

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