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Accountability, at last

Cortines' move to discipline L.A. Unified officials in a school sex case is just what the district needs.

May 08, 2008

What a difference a new senior deputy superintendent makes. The disciplining of two top Los Angeles Unified School District officials who failed to follow up on suspicions that a student had been molested is the sort of accountability the district has long needed and sorely lacked.

District rules -- and basic common sense -- required an internal investigation of Stephen Thomas Rooney after suspicions arose that he had conducted an affair with one of his under-age students at Foshay Learning Center. Instead, after temporary reassignment to a desk job, Rooney was transferred to Markham Middle School in Watts, where he allegedly molested two other girls.

At first, the results of a district investigation into its blunder looked disheartening, as Ramon C. Cortines, the new No. 2 man at L.A. Unified, released a mushy written statement. He placed most of the blame on a now-retired manager -- how convenient! -- and announced a new bureaucratic scheme for avoiding such problems. It was as though the district had gone looking for an explanation of how it disregarded its own policy and instead found what Cortines' statement called a "decision matrix flow chart."

Fortunately, Cortines' actions spoke louder than his written statement. On Tuesday, he removed Carol Truscott, the superintendent of the local mini-district where Rooney had worked, from her job. He also removed a former administrator in her office who was about to become the principal of a new high school. (For the moment, they've been assigned to the central office.) An internal memo shows that Truscott, along with 11 other L.A. Unified managers, was notified of a police investigation into allegations that Rooney "had an unlawful sexual relationship with a minor." As the manager who should have been closest to the situation at Foshay, and who would have had to approve Rooney's reassignment, Truscott bore chief responsibility.

The district's breakdown in the Rooney case kindled a new crisis of confidence in school management. That has been exacerbated by the Foshay student's recent testimony that the school's dean suggested she recant her story and by the arrests of two administrators at another school who were charged with trying to hush up allegations of molestation by a substitute teacher.

Parents demanded a clear signal that the district no longer will tolerate employees who, whether inattentive or devious, fail to place student protection over preservation of the status quo. With his action, Cortines took a step toward restoring trust in L.A. Unified.

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