With awareness of child molestation heightened since the Miramonte Elementary case broke a year ago, Los Angeles Unified is creating a special team to investigate sex-abuse allegations.
Superintendent John Deasy said he plans to hire two investigators who have backgrounds in law enforcement and also know education law to oversee cases in which teachers or other campus employees are accused of sexual misconduct.
"We don't tolerate the mistreatment of students," Deasy said in a recent interview. "The threshold by which we look at that is much, much higher than it was in the past.
"It doesn't have to involve touching - it may be harassment or (sexually) inappropriate comments.
"An employee doesn't have to be convicted of a felony to be dismissed," he said.
The district will continue reporting suspected misconduct to police, so they can determine whether to pursue criminal charges, before launching its own investigation.
District officials last year instituted a "zero-tolerance" policy for misconduct following the high-profile arrests of teachers accused of molesting youngsters at Miramonte and Telfair elementary schools.
An allegation of abuse or harassment - sexual, physical or verbal - now triggers an investigation, with district officials moving aggressively to fire those found to have jeopardized student safety.
School principals have handled most of the complaints, although there are now three investigators and a computer specialist available to help with more difficult cases.
Human Resources chief Vivian Ekchian said adding a sex-abuse team will give the current investigators more time to work with principals looking into other types of complaints. She hopes that will shorten a process that now can drag on for six months or longer.
During that time, teachers accused of misconduct are pulled from the classroom and "housed" at an administrative office at a steep cost to taxpayers - about $7,100 a month in salary and benefits for each educator, plus the pay for a substitute to fill in.
"With each case, we'll have someone with the specific expertise so we can accelerate the investigations," she said. "This will be more strategic, more centrally driven."
She said the new investigators will help officials navigate the more challenging cases, such as those involving very young children or kids with developmental disabilities for whom communication is difficult.
Ekchian said the LAUSD board has OK'd the firing of 24 teachers since school started last fall, half for misconduct and half for incompetence. With the board meeting once a month, she expects that two or three dozen more will be terminated by the time school ends in late May.
The board fired 99 teachers in 2011-12, most of them for misconduct. The year before, 56 teachers were dismissed.
By comparison, 92 teachers on track for termination have decided to resign instead. That four-month total nearly equals the 122 who resigned in 2011-12 and the 105 who quit in 2010-11 rather than going through the arduous dismissal process.
"The majority are performance related," Ekchian said. "When (principals) started to visit the classroom, teachers knew they were dismissal bound and they chose the easy out."