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Editorial: UCLA must thoroughly check and monitor ECE employee conduct to ensure safety

By Editorial Board

March 4, 2024 9:33 a.m.

Christopher Rodriguez, a former caregiver for UCLA’s Early Child Care and Education Center, was arrested Feb. 21 on charges of sexual battery, willful cruelty to a child and false imprisonment.

Rodriguez had been employed by the university since 1999, where he worked with children between the ages of two months and six years old at the Krieger Center and then the University Village Early Child Care and Education Center.

This incident highlights how UCLA must improve its methods of background checking, safety monitoring and transparency. The university should have applied greater scrutiny to detect Rodriguez’s alleged behavior sooner, and the lack of clear communication on the university’s part exacerbated stress for community members – especially those most closely affected by Rodriguez’s suspected misconduct.

UCPD did not arrest Rodriguez until Feb. 21, but he had been on academic leave since Dec. 18 due to an ongoing Title IX investigation into his behavior. The investigation began after fellow staff members reported Rodriguez’s “concerning behavior” with children.

The accusations against Rodriguez are especially alarming given the length of his employment and the number of children he was entrusted with. The Krieger Center, where Rodriguez was employed before December, is the largest ECE center on campus and hosts around 160 children.

ECE has been called into question for misconduct on multiple occasions. In 2016, parents issued several complaints against the center, including poor supervision, improper sanitation and alleged sexual misconduct of directors and teachers.

The university must be held accountable for failing to properly monitor its employees’ behavior. The evident lack of scrutiny on ECE employees created a serious breach of trust between the university and community members, which UCLA has yet to make concerted efforts to regain.

UCLA assured families that it required workshops during the investigation to remind staff of their duty as mandatory reporters. Children, unable to protect themselves, rely on their caregivers to report suspected abuse, and the ECE should emphasize this responsibility regularly, not just in response to grave incidents such as Rodriguez’s.

It is ultimately the university’s duty to thoroughly check and monitor its employees, and promote a culture that prioritizes mandatory reporting to protect student safety.

UCLA did not notify ECE families until around two months after the Title IX investigation ensued, an action that contradicts the university’s alleged commitment to protecting the children involved.

And while the university took precautions during the investigation, its decision to not provide full information to ECE families to protect individuals’ confidentiality displayed an alarming lack of judgment.

The sensitive nature of the situation is exactly why families deserve timely and comprehensive information. When it comes to emergency situations, UCLA must be more transparent and communicative to reassure community members who are directly impacted by these issues.

When parents requested more information about the investigation and whether their children were also victims, they were met with utter silence. UCLA’s failure to provide families with transparent communication about their child’s involvement rendered families unable to reconcile with this alarming news.

Of course, the university cannot reasonably inspect every single one of its 31,000 employees. But UCLA maintains a responsibility to protect and clearly communicate with its faculty, staff, students and their dependents – a responsibility the institution has failed to meet on more than one occasion.

UCLA should have scrutinized its employees, especially at the ECE, given the program’s questionable track record and knowledge of possible misconduct.

In light of these events, it is imperative for UCLA to proactively communicate. This is essential not only to ensure the safety of the entire community, but also to assist those most directly affected in reconciling with these traumatic incidents.

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