Schools must keep eyes open

The Gabrielle Leko controversy has come to a close, and not a moment too soon for the La Cañada Unified School District. Leko, a math teacher with more than two decades of experience in La Cañada, was found to have crossed a line by calling a geometry student “Jew boy” and using other offensive terms in class.

This week the school board announced it had reached an agreement in which Leko will receive a payout to give up her job at the end of the school year.

One consequence of the controversy is that the board is revising its policy regarding the handling of complaints against staff and faculty. But the curious circumstances of this case are moving some board members to support a misguided rule: The board would no longer consider third-party complaints about teachers or workers, meaning the complaints would have to come from students or parents directly affected by the alleged misconduct.

Tragically, one doesn't have to look far to see why this is too narrow a proposal. The Los Angeles Unified School District is reeling from revelation after revelation about teachers who sexually abused students, in some cases with their actions unchecked for years because the young victims were fearful and the parents ignorant. Similarly, the Penn State University scandal, in which a former football coach now stands accused of molesting several children over many years, came to light with a third-party complaint from another coach.

Compared to these horrors, La Cañada is lucky to be dealing only with a teacher whose insensitive words finally ended her career with the district.

It is true that the Leko matter had a strange provenance. Then-school board member Cindy Wilcox raised the claims despite not having witnessed wrongdoing and despite the reluctance of parents in the know to do so. She then took the concerns public just as a closely contested school board election was in full swing.

If some parents or members of the school board find Wilcox's unusual actions questionable, that is understandable. But if that compels them to cover their ears the next time an allegation comes from an unexpected corner, they will be doing students a disservice.

The board should drop the notion that it has no duty to formally investigate third-party complaints. It should consider any serious charge brought to its attention.

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