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Nevada teacher charged with kidnapping once worked for L.A. Unified

Man resigned after students made sexual misconduct allegations; L.A. schools chief says case shows dismissal process should be faster.

December 11, 2013|By Stephen Ceasar
  • Melvyn Sprowson appears in a Las Vegas court Monday on kidnapping charges. Before his arrest, Sprowson was a teacher in the Los Angeles Unified School District.
Melvyn Sprowson appears in a Las Vegas court Monday on kidnapping charges.… (L.E. Baskow, Las Vegas Sun )

A former Nevada teacher charged with kidnapping a 16-year-old girl was previously an instructor in the Los Angeles Unified School District — which had moved to fire him and sought to have his teaching credentials revoked after allegations of sexual misconduct with students surfaced.

Melvyn Sprowson, 45, appeared in a Las Vegas court this week on charges of kidnapping, contributing to the delinquency of a minor and obstruction after authorities found a missing teenager living at his home. He is being held in lieu of $650,000 bail.

Authorities allege that Sprowson, who had developed a relationship with the girl online and through text messages, took her from her parents' house without their consent. He and the teenager allegedly lived together for two months, authorities said.

Sprowson's attorney, John Momot, declined to comment.

Sprowson, who taught at Magnolia Elementary School in the Pico-Union neighborhood for eight years, resigned in 2011 after the L.A. Board of Education began the process of firing him in response to allegations that he inappropriately touched six of his students, records show.

In November 2007, the Los Angeles Police Department began an investigation into those allegations. The district removed Sprowson from the classroom; he reported to a district office while the probe was underway. During the investigation, one of the students recanted her story, prompting prosecutors to decline to file charges against him, the district said.

That student would later settle a lawsuit against L.A. Unified related to the alleged misconduct by Sprowson for $50,000, according to L.A. Unified officials.

The district then launched its own investigation, finding that Sprowson fondled two female students, forced a student to touch his body and genitals and showed a pornographic video in the classroom, among other things. Sprowson resigned after the district moved to fire him.

L.A. schools Supt. John Deasy said the district recommended to the state Commission on Teacher Credentialing that it revoke Sprowson's license to prevent him from teaching elsewhere. The district presented its findings to the commission, but the agency declined to take action against him.

The decision reignited Deasy's displeasure with the handling of teachers accused of misconduct in California.

The superintendent has stated repeatedly that the dismissal of such teachers should be faster, less expensive and, preferably, under the local school district's control. State officials, in turn, have faulted L.A. Unified for not meeting its obligations to report misconduct.

"It is appalling that even when the LAUSD recommends revocation of credentials, as we did in this instance, a teacher is allowed to remain in front of students," Deasy said. "Although law enforcement didn't move forward with a criminal case, we concluded beyond any doubt that this teacher shouldn't be in a classroom."

Anne Padilla, a spokeswoman for the Commission on Teacher Credentialing, declined to comment specifically on Sprowson's case, citing privacy laws.

Sprowson went on to receive a teaching license in Nevada and was hired by the Clark County School District in April 2012.

He received a state license despite questions on the application that seek information about previous teaching credentials.

The state form asks if the applicant has ever had a professional license "revoked, suspended, restricted, or under review" in any other state and if the applicant has resigned pending action by any other school system or been subject to an investigation by another district.

The Clark County School District was unaware of any allegations of misconduct in Los Angeles until after the arrest, said district spokeswoman Melinda Malone. Sprowson passed all background and fingerprint checks, she said.

During the hiring process, officials contacted as a reference an individual who Sprowson had listed as his last supervisor, Malone said. She would not identify that person, citing confidentiality rules.

L.A. Unified was contacted separately to confirm the dates of his employment.

Sprowson was dismissed after he failed to show up for work for six days after his arrest, Malone said.

stephen.ceasar@latimes.com

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