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L.A. Unified Reinstates Crenshaw High Teacher

October 21, 2006|Mitchell Landsberg | Times Staff Writer

Under intense pressure from the teachers union, Los Angeles Unified School District officials reversed themselves Friday and agreed to reinstate a teacher who was transferred from Crenshaw High for allegedly blocking reform efforts by the school administration.

History teacher Alex Caputo-Pearl had been the union's chapter chairman at Crenshaw until his transfer to Emerson Middle School in late August, just before the start of the school year.

He will return to his old job at Crenshaw High by the beginning of the spring semester in February, if not sooner, according to the agreement worked out between the union and the school district.

"I'm incredibly happy to be going back to the school that I love, and the community that I live in," Caputo-Pearl said by telephone after signing the agreement.

"This was the best solution," he added, "because frankly there's a lot of important stuff that we need to move on to. And this ... lets us move on as a school community, as a school district, to things that are much more important than one transfer -- things like school reform, getting along with the mayor, accreditation, and all of that."

Caputo-Pearl's case -- ostensibly, a simple transfer of a single teacher -- embroiled the top leadership of both the district and the union, United Teachers Los Angeles, and brought protesters by the hundreds to two successive school board meetings.

Schools Supt. Roy Romer had accused the teacher of driving out a highly regarded principal, Charles Didinger, at a time when Crenshaw was struggling to regain its long-term accreditation.

Didinger had said he left the school primarily for health reasons, but had been worn down by constant haggling with teachers -- largely meaning Caputo-Pearl, who represented the teaching staff.

The agreement hammered out Friday requires Caputo-Pearl to submit to two full-day sessions of mediation with Crenshaw's new principal, Sheilah Sanders, "to work on their communication protocols and working relationship."

Caputo-Pearl said he has been holding weekly meetings with Sanders since his transfer, "so I feel like we've got an excellent start on that already."

The mediator can decide that Caputo-Pearl can return sooner than the Feb. 7 start of the next semester, although it appears unlikely that he could return before mid-November.

Officials with both the district and the union were cautious in characterizing the settlement, largely because it contained an unusual clause that restricted how they could talk about it.

The agreement included a joint statement saying the two sides "are both pleased that they have amicably and beneficially resolved the issue.... The parties acknowledge and appreciate the outpouring of support from the community for Mr. Caputo-Pearl, and all parties involved reaffirm the need for the chapter chair and administration to work collaboratively for the good of Crenshaw High School."

The next clause read: "Follow-up statements to the media or the public ... will be consistent with the above statement and the parties, in particular, will refrain from vocabulary referencing battle, warfare, or other negative/pejorative statements about each other."

So when UTLA President A.J. Duffy was asked if the union had won, he replied: "Won? ... Well, I wouldn't describe it as a victory."

Treading carefully, the usually blunt Duffy added: "Clearly, we got what we had wanted from the very beginning. But I think it's a win-win for both sides.

"Through the negotiations, I think the district came to a realization that what they did and the way they went about doing it was less than fair and equitable, and having the district come to that conclusion is a good thing. We are ecstatic," the union president said.

Kevin Reed, the district's counsel, said the district was satisfied that "this agreement resolves any of the concerns that the district had" about Caputo-Pearl and his relationship with the school administration.

Still, school board member David Tokofsky was hesitant to join the backslapping. He noted that Crenshaw is up for re-accreditation in February after having lost it in 2005. The accreditation was restored last February, but only for one year -- essentially putting the school on probation.

"I'm glad there's common ground," Tokofsky said, "but ground zero is accreditation.

"And if we're all singing 'Kumbaya,' we'd better make sure we've got accreditation or there's going to be all sorts of turmoil and personnel changes in March or June or July," Tokofsky continued.

mitchell.landsberg @latimes.com

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