Proposed Policy Changes Could Have Stopped Leko Complaint

If the proposed language added to LCUSD's board policy is adopted, only people who witness an event (or their parents) firsthand may have their complaints "entertained.''

has proposed changes to the employee complaint policy that, essentially, would not give standing to a complainant unless the person (or the parents) witnessed the event firsthand.

Such a change to board policy 1312 could have rendered Cindy Wilcox' Gabrielle Leko inadmissible, as Wilcox did not personally see Leko call a student or make fun of a or call a class

Her formal complaints, which included first-hand accounts from at least one student and her parent, led to a district investigation and multiple closed-door sessions that resulted Tuesday night in a unanimous governing board vote to initiate dismissal procedures effective Feb. 27.

The Procedure 'Should Serve All Stakeholders'

When asked about what message he thought it could send to the community to preclude third-party complaints, board member Andrew Blumenfeld said he first would want to discuss the proposed changes with the board and the community.

"This language was added since our last meeting and was not the result of any public discussion on the topic. So I'm going to reserve hypothesizing about the message it sends to the community until we've had an opportunity to discuss it with the community,'' he wrote in an e-mail to Patch on Wednesday.

Board member Joel Peterson cautioned that while the district discovered wrongful behavior on the certificated employee's part - in class, in an attempt to banter with the kids and develop a rapport with them - it does not mean that the process did not have its costs.

One cost: "...parents who had made a conscious choice not to have their child involved in a complaint process, but were named in the complaint against their consent and without their knowledge,'' he wrote in an email Wednesday.

Peterson added, "I do suggest that it is the board’s duty to examine the lessons of this experience and ensure that the balance is right so that these sorts of procedures serve all stake holders.''

Leko has not returned phonecalls requesting comment since the public complaint's disclosure in October.

History of Complaints, Confusion About Policy

Since Wilcox' June filing of a formal public complaint has come to light, the district's handling of the situation has drawn the ire of parents, of whom dozens packed a school board meeting in December and decried the teacher complaint process as "broken.'' Wilcox charged that Leko used ethnic slurs and language with gender bias in her ninth-grade honors geometry class during the 2010-11 school year. She asked that Leko be dismissed.

Wilcox believes that the district dragged its heels in moving forward with the formal process, so, in feeling stymied, she went public.

Following the disclosure, heaps of students , many addressing the board about the veteran teacher's merits. Other students and LCHS gradates have written math instructor, saying Leko alone is responsible for their understanding of the complex concepts.

Others offer a different picture of Leko.

Debra Archuleta and her daughter, Alyssa Stolmack, addressed the board in the fall, with Stolmack Another parent, Hillary Werhane, told Patch that she complained about Leko's language back in 2009, when she allegedly called the kids "s--theads'' and said they could "go to hell.'' Both parents believed that informing administrators and counselors about the issue, meant that they had formally filed complaints.

They had not, as there is a multiple-layer process to formally file such allegations. This was not made clear to them, the parents said. Subsequently, dozens of people packed the December meeting.

But because board members are precluded from talking in open session about matters not listed as discussion items on the agenda, the board could not respond to the vocal audience. Still, the the public comment period. Therefore, a revision to the policy made it onto the agenda for discussion in January's regular meeting, with a second reading scheduled for Tuesday. The matter, with the new language, was put over until the next meeting on March 6.

Proposed Policy Revision 'Problematic'

Regarding the newest language for consideration, the admissibility of third-party complaints, Wilcox said Wednesday she believes there are many reasons why a victim or the victim's parent wouldn't file a formal complaint.

"The student may come from a culture where complaints are not lodged against teachers or school employees. What if the parent can't take off work three or more times to follow up with the formal process,'' Wilcox questioned.

To discount a complaint filed, for example, by a scout leader, a rabbi, minister, or neighbor to whom the child confided in is "problematic.''  Wilcox said she hopes the board considers these kinds of circumstances when considering any revised wording.

Cindy Wilcox February 09, 2012 at 04:21 PM
If one of my children had been in the class with the name-calling, and if we had decided to file a complaint, my child would have been a first-hand witness. My child and I would have named the students who were targeted by the ethnic slurs, gender bias, and teased about a stammer. I am puzzled by this comment that a third party complaint is a problem because it named students who did not want to be part of the complaint. Had it been a first-hand complaint from my family, that complaint would have named students too. I don't see the difference, but perhaps someone will enlighten me?
Cindy Wilcox February 09, 2012 at 04:46 PM
This also puzzles me: I have been told that my third party complaint is taking more steps. Let's think about that. Suppose I had a student in the class as a witness, and my child and I filed the complaint. I would recommend that staff evaluate the nature of the complaint, and if appropriate, interview other students in the class to confirm (or not) that the allegations could be verified. No single student should be the sole witness for moving forward on a serious allegation. If not verifiable, notify the parent and student and give them option to withdraw the complaint. If the information is reasonably verifiable, then continue with the complaint process. Suppose however, the complaint is a third party complaint, which is what I filed against Leko. What's the next step? In my opinion, the District could have evaluated the specific nature and quality of the complaint, and started interviewing students in the class to confirm or deny the allegations. (Also, in hindsight, the District had a first-hand witness, but didn't start by checking with counselors or administrators. And the District knew about the 2009 cussing incident by this same teacher, so there was some history to indicate that this complaint might have merit.) In my opinion, the second step is the same for both a third-party complaint and a family with a student making a first-hand complaint. Please help me understand what the extra burden might be.
Jack Schaedel February 09, 2012 at 08:08 PM
I generally agree with Cindy's points. Sometimes, a single child may not be fully aware that what is happening to him or her is a violation. Or, a single child is well aware of it, but she or her parents are afraid that a complaint will result in retaliation by the teacher. Other times, what one child alone experiences might not be a violation, but if all children are experiencing similar things, they should be reported. If the district's policy is "to maintain easy channels of communication," and that "complaints be resolved expeditiously," I don't see how restricting who can make complaints serves those goals. My area of departure with Cindy is on the statement, "No single student should be the sole witness for moving forward on a serious allegation." In some cases, the violation may occur in a one-on-one situation, which would mean that there is only one witness. Perhaps protocols are in place (or can be put in place) to avoid potentially problematic one-on-one situations, such as instruction being conducted on an individual basis only when that is necessary, and then only with a door open or in a semi-public setting?
Cindy Wilcox February 09, 2012 at 11:49 PM
Jack makes an excellent point -- a complaint about a one-on-one interaction needs a different type of investigation.
Concerned citizen February 11, 2012 at 03:10 AM
In the workplace a third party may file a claim if the harassment of another person impacts them and creates a hostile work environment How is this any different?


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