District sharpening policies amid Leko scandal

Fallout from the Gabrielle Leko scandal continued this week, as the school board considers requiring La Cañada Unified employees to report any inappropriate conduct they witness between another employee and a student.

Spurred by complaints that the La Cañada High math teacher regularly used racist and sexist language in her classroom, officials presented a modified draft of the district’s code of ethics during a public meeting Monday.

The board is also looking at possible changes to policies regarding complaints against district employees. Both will return to the board for a second reading as early as next month.

The modified code of ethics policy builds on a presentation made by Supt. Wendy Sinnette in December. In it, she outlined existing board policy for employee conduct, a two-sentence directive that states that employees must maintain high standards, follow district regulations and abide by all laws.

The suggested new language is much more explicit, spelling out unacceptable employee-student interaction including inappropriate socializing or fraternizing, furnishing tobacco, alcohol or illegal substances and engaging in child abuse. It also prohibits “harassing or discriminatory behavior.”

It also states that if staff members become aware of inappropriate behavior, they must report it.

“An employee who observes or has evidence of inappropriate conduct between another employee and a student shall immediately report such conduct to the principal or superintendent or designee,” the proposed policy reads.

The onus would then be on the administrator to investigate, Sinnette said.

“This would provide directives to employees,” Sinnette said. “They wouldn’t be in a position to take action … but if this came to their attention, then they would be required to address it with their site administrator.”

Board member Andrew Blumenfeld questioned whether the modified policy would conflict with the La Cañada Teachers Assn. code of conduct, which bars its members from criticizing, or negatively speculating about, a colleague to management.

But union President Mandy Redfern said that the proposed policy is consistent with teachers’ obligations.

“What this particular proposal is talking about is inappropriate conduct with students,” Redfern said. “We all have that obligation regardless. It doesn’t violate the [union] code of ethics in any way, shape or form. If we hear a student has been discriminated against or harassed, or there is socialization or fraternization that is inappropriate, we’re all obligated to report that.”

Parents also will be on notice that they must follow up on their complaints if they do not see an issue resolved to their satisfaction.

“Failure to move the complaint forward shall indicate that the complainant’s issues have been satisfactorily remedied by the complaint procedure,” the proposed modified policy reads.

Board member Ellen Multari said there seems to be an expectation among families that school officials will do the follow up.

“Maybe we need to make it clear to the community that [if] we have given you direction to do something, then [the] onus is now on you to come back if you are not satisfied with how we resolved the problem,” Multari said.

Administrators will be directed to keep a copy of the complaint procedures on their desks to hand out and review with parents, Sinnette said.

“I really understand the frustration many parents have felt, with not feeling that they had satisfaction in the resolution, but who would know that better than that parent; and that parent’s responsibility is to make that heard,” Sinnette said.

Copyright © 2019, La Cañada Valley Sun
EDITION: California | U.S. & World