Thomas Shelden, a fourth-grade teacher at Charles White Elementary in Westlake, is one of about 160 school district employees "housed" by L.A. Unified. Shelden was accused of sexually harassing a fellow teacher. A district inquiry did not substantiate that, but LAUSD assigned Shelden first to a district office and later to home, saying he repeatedly had contacted the woman against district orders. He is forbidden to teach, seek a second job or leave the premises during the school day. "You are to follow the holiday / pupil-free day schedule as reflected on your school calendar," reads a February letter from the district. Shelden, who continues to collect his $73,500 salary, says he has done nothing wrong. A Times reporter and photographer spent a school day at his Los Feliz residence.
Monday, March 16
Shelden dons a pair of worn jeans, a blue sleeveless shirt and a red baseball hat, ready to begin his shift. It's 40 minutes before he needs to check in with his supervisor. But he likes to call in early, he said, because "I want to let them know I'm really dedicated."
He kills the next two hours by talking to a reporter and listening to some of the nearly 6,800 songs he's downloaded onto his computer since first being housed.
He watches a lot of TV: "Is today going to be a movie day or a news day?" he muses aloud. On this day he keeps his TV tuned to Fox News with the sound off.
Shelden takes two 25-pound weights out to his patio and does bicep curls. Then he returns to his bedroom and reads aloud from his Bible for almost an hour. A former radio disc jockey, Shelden says he wants to keep his voice in shape for when he returns to the classroom. He also keeps jars of Jolly Rancher candies around his apartment, treats he used to give his students for good behavior, and a framed copy of his teaching credential on the wall.
"I don't want to think that I'm not a teacher," he says.
After spending nearly half an hour polishing his shoes, Shelden puts on a pair and departs for his daily walk down Hillhurst Avenue. He acknowledges that the district has forbidden him from leaving home during the school day, but Shelden doesn't worry. When he was housed at a local district office, he says he would often spend three hours a day walking. Inside, his fellow housed employees taught him to play canasta.
Back home, Shelden watches a rerun of a golf tournament and some news, muttering an invective as anchors talk about bonuses paid to AIG employees. An hour later, he lies down to take his daily nap.
His alarm clock bleats and he springs out of bed to call the district. "Good afternoon, Dr. Valentino!" he booms in a voice message to his supervisor. "It is 2:22 -- it's Thom Shelden, by the way -- and I'm off duty for today. I'll talk to you again tomorrow, sir!"
Shelden thanks a reporter and photographer who visited him, saying it gave him something to do. He says he can't understand why the district hasn't either fired him or sent him back to school. The whole experience is "a waste of taxpayer money," he says.