School board votes to fire Leko

After meeting four separate times behind closed doors, district officials voted unanimously Tuesday to start the process of firing Gabrielle Leko, the La Cañada High School math teacher accused of making ethnic slurs and other derogatory comments to students in her classroom.

Formal dismissal proceedings, however, will not begin until Feb. 27, giving the district and the embattled educator time to consider other options. Following the Tuesday vote, school board President Scott Tracy said this could include an agreement for Leko to leave at the end of the school year.

On Dec. 26, the board met for a special closed-door session and recommended the district counsel reach a settlement with Leko that could lead to her leaving the school district. They also then decided to give La Cañada High School students the option to opt out of her class at the beginning of the current semester, which started Jan.30.

According to District Supt. Wendy Sinnette, 15 students in Leko’s pre-calculus class and two in her advanced placement calculus class chose to leave.

The controversy started last June, when then-board member Cindy Wilcox filed a formal complaint against Leko after she received reports that the teacher called a student “Jew boy” and made other statements that were deemed offensive. In the fall the district placed a substitute teacher in Leko’s classroom daily so that another adult would be present while her classes were in session.

Wilcox said Tuesday night she was happy with the direction the board was taking the case, but that it was “appalling” that the board had placed an additional teacher in Leko’s classroom, calling it “incredibly expensive.”

“We really need to get this resolved,” she said. “It’s time to make a decision.”

Board member Joel Peterson said the process to fire the teacher could take months. An employee may resign or refute the board’s reasons for dismissal. If the employee does not agree to leave the school, the case ends up in front of an arbitration board, he said, which is “very much like a legal trial process.”

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