A member of the La Cañada Flintridge school board is calling for the ouster of a La Cañada High School math teacher who allegedly addressed a ninth-grade geometry student as “Jew boy” and otherwise angered parents.
School board member Cindy Wilcox said she filed a formal complaint — as a member of the public — against teacher Gabrielle Leko in June, saying the complaint was based on numerous verbal grievances she received about Leko from school families. None of those families were willing to go on record with a complaint, she said.
“When I talked to the families and said ‘Would you please file a complaint?’ their response is, ‘She teaches all the high-level classes … We are going to see her again, and furthermore the siblings are likely to see her again. This is a teacher you just don’t want to make upset,’” Wilcox said.
Leko did not respond to requests for comment.
In a statement, La Cañada Unified School District Supt. Wendy Sinnette said the district is looking into the allegations.
“The La Cañada Unified School District is committed to both academic excellence and the promotion of every student's social, emotional and developmental health and well-being,” Sinnette said. “As such, allegations of this type are taken very seriously and thoroughly reviewed consistent with existing procedures established by the district's board policies and collective bargaining agreements.”
Sinnette also urged parents to “keep an open mind until the review process is completed.”
Wilcox said the “Jew boy” comment was made during a ninth-grade honors geometry class last year, though she could not provide a specific date. She also was unable to elaborate on the context of the comment, but said she had spoken to multiple families who confirmed the incident.
Wilcox said she has contacted the Anti-Defamation League and the ACLU regarding the comment.
In her complaint and in an interview, Wilcox also alleged that Leko has a history of discriminating against female students, but said families have been fearful about coming forward.
“I know families who, having had this teacher once, make sure that siblings never have her,” Wilcox said.
The allegations are so egregious, Wilcox said, that it would discredit the teachers union if it invests resources to defend Leko.
“There comes a point in time when the unions have to decide which side they are on,” Wilcox said. “I would call out the union and say, ‘Who are you and what do you stand for?’”
Mandy Redfern, president of La Cañada Teachers Assn., issued a statement questioning Wilcox’s decision to go public with the accusations against Leko.
“The association believes that such allegations should be made using the clear and fair procedures outlined in the collective bargaining agreement rather than through media outlets,” Redfern said. “The members of the La Cañada Teachers Assn. are committed to providing our students with an academically rigorous program in a supportive learning environment.”
FOR THE RECORD: An article published on Oct. 16 in the Sunday Valley Sun "Official wants teacher fired," should have indicated the issue was first reported by La Cañada Flintridge Patch. That article can be found here.