A La Cañada High School math teacher has been ordered to participate in sensitivity and diversity training following complaints that she used sexist and racist comments in her classroom, including calling a student “Jew boy.”
The allegations against Gabrielle Leko have roiled the tightly knit community, with parents lining up to criticize officials’ handling of the allegations against her during the most recent board meeting Tuesday. As the district’s formal response circulated via email, some stakeholders said they remain deeply unsatisfied.
“I am sickened, and really wish we could pull our kids out of this district,” said parent Amy Bernhard. “I am resentful that I have to devote my time and energy fighting this, a situation that should have been handled properly by the administration upfront, without our involvement.”
Kathy Hernandez, a former PTSA president at La Cañada High, said she feared the effect Leko’s comments have had on her students.
“If I went to work and said any of the things Ms. Leko is accused of saying, I'd expect to be fired immediately,” she said. “To know that she not only harbors those thoughts, but says them to the very students she's supposed to be educating, is unconscionable. I'm relieved that my kids got through LCHS without having her as a teacher, and wish that others didn't either. Our students deserve to be taught by people who want the best for them, not those who put them down.”
The district’s investigation, written by Assistant Supt. of Human Resources Patricia Hager, found Leko made “inappropriate comments containing gender and ethnic bias during exchanges of banter with students in an attempt to develop a rapport with students during class time.”
The training Leko must undergo will be facilitated and funded by La Cañada Unified, and will include professional recommendations on how to repair strained relationships with community members.
The school board will consider additional disciplinary action, but any decision will remain a “confidential personnel matter between the district and employee,” Hager said.
The district investigation also found that Leko was “inconsistent in her enforcement of the school’s absence/make up policy” and that her immediate supervisor will work with her to ensure the policy is applied consistently in the future, according to the memorandum.
School board member Cindy
Wilcox said Friday that an administrator should be assigned to Leko’s classroom.
“My thoughts are that the teacher should not be unsupervised in the classroom with children,” Wilcox said. “It appears that this document is leaving her in the classroom unsupervised.”
In June, Wilcox filed a formal complaint against Leko, alleging that she had referred to a freshman geometry student as “Jew boy” during the 2010-11 school year. Wilcox said she took the action after hearing numerous descriptions of the incident from students who were hesitant to come forward formally for fear of retribution.
The “Jew boy” comment was just one in a long list of offensive comments the math teacher has leveled at students over the years, Wilcox said. She has openly called for Leko to be fired.
A hearing on the matter took place Oct. 26. It involved included district officials, Leko, Wilcox and Debra Archuleta, the single La Cañada Unified parent who chose to formally participate.
Several people turned out at a school board meeting Tuesday night to lambaste the district for not acting quickly enough to resolve the case and for not doing enough to address racism and sexism.
But since the matter went public in October, many have defended Leko, describing her as a talented teacher and dismissing the complaint as the work of overzealous parents.
Leko repeatedly has declined to comment on the allegations.
La Cañada Teachers Assn. President Mandy Redfern said Friday that she has not yet seen the findings and could not comment.
-- Megan O'Neil, Times Community News