Community criticizes school board over Leko complaint

Upset with a process they called ineffective and shameful, community members Tuesday castigated the La Cañada Unified School District’s handling of a teacher accused of making inappropriate remarks and racial slurs.

Gabrielle Leko, a math teacher at La Cañada High, allegedly denigrated racial groups on a regular basis and referred to one of her geometry students as “Jew boy” during the 2010-11 school year. The complaint was filed by Cindy Wilcox, a current member of the board, last June. Wilcox did not run for reelection, and her term ends next month.

Though not on the board’s agenda, several people took advantage of the meeting’s open comment period to complain that the district is not doing enough to address racism and sexism.

Leko and district officials met to discuss the allegations on Oct. 26. Supt. Wendy Sinnette said the district will give notice when its investigation is complete, but added the outcome will remain private, as it is a personnel issue.

But parents, who said they understood the district’s confidentiality concerns, questioned why the process has dragged on so long.

“This wouldn’t have happened if it was a kid on the school yard,” said Belinda Randolph, whose children attend La Cañada schools. “All those kids would have been brought in at that moment, not eight months later.”

Debra Archuleta, the only parent to add her name to Wilcox’s complaint, questioned why no other parents came forward. She called the school board’s actions “somewhat shameful.”

“I erroneously assumed that this would be a personnel issue handled at the school level,” Archuleta said.

Archuleta’s daughter, Alyssa Stolmack, a sophomore at La Cañada High, told the board that Leko insulted students who have speech impediments and targeted Armenians, Korean women and several other groups.

“It was all very atrocious,” she said. “The fact that my concerns and the concerns of my peers were not taken seriously, at least ostensively, is very concerning to me and the rest of my peers.”

She said other students from her geometry class, where Leko allegedly addressed a student as “Jew boy,” were afraid to speak out because they feared retribution.

“We don’t feel safe and the fact that we can’t come and comfortably address such a horrible and pressing issue is really disturbing,” Stolmack added.

The alleged “Jew boy” comment prompted Jewish parents and community members to address the board, including Monica DeMoulin.

DeMoulin said her son has reported hearing other students use racial slurs against blacks, Muslims and other groups.

“It’s really mean stuff and he’s heard it so often that I hate to say that he’s sort of used to it by now,” she said. “What the kids all learn from this is it’s not a big deal to the school.”

DeMoulin asked that the school board take action to show the community that it doesn’t allow hate speech.

“I’m asking that the school and the district find some way to publicly show our children by your actions that racism, anti-Semitism, sexism, are not condoned and will not be tolerated in our community,” she said. “We need to see you standing behind the values that we expect to see in our children.”

California’s open meeting law prohibits board members from discussing topics not on the agenda, and the Leko issue was not on the agenda. However, school board President Susan Boyd thanked parents and community members for attending the meeting and expressing their opinions.

[Editor's note: this story has been updated from a previous version originally published at 1:33 p.m. on Nov. 16, 2011.]

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