Piece of Mind: A distraction we don't need now

There is a deep uneasiness striking the very pit of my stomach this week. It’s generated by the charges filed against La Cañada High math teacher Gabrielle Leko, who may or may not have said egregious things in her classroom.

A closed hearing on the matter was held Wednesday. As I write this, I do not know the outcome of the hearing. Nor have we been privy to Leko’s written response to the charges. It seems that none of us, other than those gathered for the closed meeting, has heard her side of the story.

I am glad that a few people have taken the time to write letters to the editor and comments on our website in defense of Leko, so that at least we have some voices speaking on her behalf. Do not take this to mean I’m convinced she is innocent; it just means that I believe she should be given the benefit of the doubt until all sides are heard by the authorities and any discipline, if called for, is meted out.

It’s not a particular surprise that there have not been letters decrying Leko’s teaching methods or classroom behavior because I know from personal experience that parents are loathe to breathe a public word about a La Cañada teacher for fear their child will face some form of retaliation.

Except for one time in our daughter’s La Cañada public schools experience, I bit my tongue when I disagreed with something a teacher had said or done because I didn’t want word going through the teaching staff that I was a difficult parent or that my daughter had some shortcoming. (The one complaint I eventually made was via a phone call to the LCHS principal, but that was not until our daughter was midway into her senior year and I figured it wouldn’t harm her at that late date if her mother was considered to be a cranky parent.)

But there is more than whether or not the accused math teacher needs to be exonerated, censored or dismissed that is bothering me today: I wish that it had come out at a time other than during the campaign for the November school board election. We have so many issues facing our district right now and are only days away from that vote. I worry that voters will become distracted — or discouraged —and that the end result will be a lower turnout than we already seem to have each time seats are open on that crucial board.

If you reside within the LCUSD boundaries, please don’t let this controversy keep you from studying the candidates’ statements and going to the polls on Nov. 8. If there is a weakness in the LCHS Math Department — and it would appear from our recent state scores there is an undeniable problem there that may or may not be related to one teacher who is alleged to have stepped over the line — we need strong leadership on the board to tackle that situation as well as others.

All four candidates responded to some questions we posed to them this week with thoughtful answers. You’ll find this Q&A in our pages today. Please pore over them to see who best shares your perspective on how the district should be operating. Then, vote accordingly. Do not let this other matter throw you off course, or prompt you to toss your hands up in disgust and decide not to vote at all. We need a board that can represent your point of view, as well as your neighbor’s. Let’s not let a chance to make our voices heard — without any fear of retaliation — slip past us because of a truly awful distraction.

CAROL CORMACI is the managing editor of the La Cañada Valley Sun. She can be reached via email at ccormaci@valleysun.net or carol.cormaci@latimes.com.

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