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LAUSD teacher fired in harassment case after two years

Thomas Shelden got his $73,500 annual salary but had no duties while the district investigated.

April 24, 2010|By Jason Song, Los Angeles Times

Thomas Shelden, a Los Angeles city schoolteacher who spent nearly two years outside the classroom with full pay and benefits while district officials investigated accusations against him, has been dismissed by the school board.

Shelden was a fourth-grade teacher at Charles White Elementary in Westlake when Los Angeles Unified School District officials removed him from the campus in May 2008. At that time, the district had about 160 employees assigned to administrative offices while claims against them were under review.

Under a long-standing practice, those employees are not given any assignments and receive their full wages and benefits.

Shelden, whose annual salary was $73,500, had been accused of sexually harassing another instructor, who later took out a restraining order against him. A district inquiry did not substantiate that claim, but Shelden was assigned to an office for allegedly contacting the woman repeatedly against district orders.

In a brief e-mail Friday about his termination, Shelden said he is "trying to talk them out of doing such a foolish thing."

He has said that district officials targeted him and that charges against him were false.

In February 2009, he was required to work from his home, from which he had to check in with his supervisor twice a day.

His activities were highlighted in a Times article last May. Shelden spent the day napping, watching television, taking walks and lifting weights.

The school board voted to dismiss him at a closed-door meeting April 6. He had 30 days to appeal the decision, which would then be heard by a state board that has final say over educator dismissals.

A Times article found that the state board, known as the Commission on Professional Competence, overturned nearly a third of dismissals statewide over the last 15 years.

District officials declined to comment on Shelden's firing or to say why the investigation took so long to complete.

Shelden sent numerous faxes, e-mails and letters to a Times reporter that contained part of the district's complaints against him and one of his performance evaluations.

According to the documents, Shelden:

-- Received a satisfactory evaluation in 2004 while teaching at Union Avenue Elementary in Westlake.

-- Was admonished in December 2005 while teaching at White Elementary for allegedly yelling "shut up" to students and ridiculing a student in front of classmates and ordering the student to write "I will not lie to Mr. Shelden" 150 times on the blackboard.

-- Made abusive or threatening comments to students, failed to properly supervise his class and made statements with "overtones of racism and/or discrimination."

-- Yelled at co-workers while assigned to the administrative office, causing one to complain that the office was "not a safe work environment."

The time he spent away from the classroom will count toward his pension and retirement benefits, according to district officials.

jason.song@latimes.com

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