No decision has been made on an LCHS math teacher who after two Tuesday night closed-session meetings that sandwiched an epic public board meeting that focused on handling concerns about teachers.
Veiled references to Gabrielle Leko hung over the first public board meeting for rookie members Andrew Blumenfeld and Ellen Multari, as they joined the rest of the board in fielding comments from parents and other residents on ways to best deal with complaints about teachers at Tuesday night's meeting.
Following the board had emerged from closed session to tell dozens in attendance that there was nothing to report, but would regroup later in the evening for more deliberations. They reconvened for another closed session, emerging at midnight to say that no decision was reached, and that they will meet again in closed session on Dec. 21.
Follwing the public swearing-in of Multari and Blumenfeld as well as the cake-accented honoring of departing members Cindy Wilcox and Jeanne Broberg, all eyes eventually turned to Superintendent Wendy Sinnette's presentation of a multi-layered list of possible procedures on how concerns and issues with teachers could be handled. The district's handling of the Leko situation has drawn the ire of parents, who have decried the "broken" process.
"If the system has fallen down, we need to fix it," Sinnette said Tuesday night.
Assembling A Plan
Sinnette's slide-oriented presentation outlined different plans of action when issues are reported at varying levels: principal, counselor, formal, informal and public complaints. Several slides showed language from the California School Boards Association that could be implemented into a policy for the district, such as what defines inappropriate behavior, or what an employee should do if he or she witnesses or had evidence of inappropriate conduct between another employee and a student.
Several people raised questions ranging from how much evidence a student or parent would need to warrant a full investigation by the principal or counselor, or about the variances in types of child abuse.
There were flashes of comments mentioning the Leko situation, but board president Susan Boyd and Sinnette made it a point to steer the discussion back to the potential complaint methodology, as they asked that no references be made to specific incidents or people.
That didn't stop Debra Archuleta, whose daughter , from peppering the board with pointed questions regarding the responsibility of counselors and supervisors faced with teacher complaints.
"At what point does common sense come into this?" she said. "It's not anger, it's concern. This should be part of their job."
A point on one of the slides mentioned that anonymous complaints wouldn't be entertained at either the formal or informal level, which brought Archuleta to speak about students and parents paralyzed from fear of retribution.
"I understand why you can't [handle anonymous complaints], but how are we going to encourage people to put their names in these complaints, instead of living under this culture of fear in La Cañada?" she said. "My daughter ... she has not suffered any retribution by staff or administration, even though she came forward. Hey, if my kid did it, then I'd want others to come forward. This message should be out there, that kids can come forward and be treated with the same respect."
Sinnette called the teachers she works with "pros, and that the pros I know would not engage in retribution."
Improving outreach and communication was another aspect discussed between board members and residents. Wilcox said she had learned about "egregious" things that had happened that had never been brought to the board's attention, even while she was on it.
"Perhaps you can decide what triggers the board's being informed of something," she said. "Or when you'd want staff to bring things to your attention."
Wilcox also mentioned that sometimes school principals are "confused" about when a particular issue has been resolved, when in some situations, it's more about a parent giving up.
"They say, 'I can't take any more time off work,'" she said.
Susan Blumenfeld, sitting next to Wilcox, mentioned that it "took me a year-and-a-half to realize a process even existed."
As the discussion on complaint procedure winded down, Archuleta asked the board about what action would be taken, other than putting in a policy and trying to train staff, to prevent what she called a "complete breakdown" and "appalling lack of professionalism" in how the district handled the concerns of her and her daughter. Boyd responded that "it happened, and now we're dealing with it. We're dealing with it now to keep it from happening again."
"I hoped my concerns would be handled in the local confines of the school," Archuleta responded. "I'm sorry that it's become such an issue ... had this been handled last year, maybe we wouldn't be sitting here."
Following the discussion, the board moved to introduce a proposed policy for LCUSD to be discussed at the Jan. 10 board meeting.
At the conclusion of the public meeting, the board nominated and elected new officers. Scott Tracy took over as the board's president for the fourth time, stepping in for Susan Boyd. Multari assumed the position of vice president, and Blumenfeld took up the mantle of clerk.