Award-winning teacher sues L.A. officials after being fired and accused of misconduct
Rafe Esquith (KPCC)

The Los Angeles school board has voted to fire a nationally recognized teacher following allegations that he inappropriately touched minors and made an improper joke to students, the Los Angeles Times reported.

The newspaper reported the dismissal of Hobart Avenue Elementary School teacher Rafe Esquith, 61, on its website late on Wednesday, citing unnamed sources. The board's vote took place behind closed doors on Tuesday, the newspaper said.

Esquith was named the National Outstanding Teacher of the Year in 1992, received the National Medal of Arts in 2003 and was honored by media mogul Oprah Winfrey. He has written several popular books about teaching, including "Teach Like Your Hair's On Fire" and a memoir, "There Are No Shortcuts."

Most of his pupils come from immigrant families with limited English, and he has won accolades for helping them understand the arts and, through his nonprofit the Hobart Shakespeareans, allowing them to travel as they perform the works of William Shakespeare.

Los Angeles Unified School District spokeswoman Barb Jones confirmed that Esquith has been placed on unpaid status, but she declined to comment further on what she called confidential personnel matters.

Two months ago, Esquith had filed a defamation lawsuit against the school district in Los Angeles Superior Court, asserting that beginning in March district officials had "embarked on a campaign to silence" him.

Esquith, his attorneys say, was an outspoken critic of the district and what he saw as its wasteful spending.

On Thursday, he filed a proposed class-action lawsuit against the district accusing it of violating his due process rights, as well as those of some 2,000 teachers he said were removed from the classroom over misconduct allegations.

Esquith was removed after he joked to students that, due to a lack of funds, they might have to perform a Shakespeake play naked, according to the new lawsuit. The joke related to a Mark Twain passage, the suit said.

Asked at a news conference to announce the filing of the lawsuit, Esquith's attorney Mark Geragos would not confirm his client was fired this week.

Geragos did acknowledge, however, that Esquith will not be able to teach again at the same school. He said the district had no evidence against his client.

"If they had something that was illegal, they would have turned it over (to police)," Geragos told the news conference.

(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Daniel Wallis and David Gregorio)