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Alleged anti-Semitic remark triggers call for teacher's dismissal

School board member alleges that Gabrielle Leko discriminates against girls, used slur "Jew boy" in class.

October 14, 2011|By Megan O'Neil, megan.oneil@latimes.com
  • The Welcome Back signs were in place as students get oriented on the first day of school at La Canada High School on Monday, August 29, 2011. (Tim Berger/Staff Photographer)
The Welcome Back signs were in place as students get oriented…

La Cañada school board member Cindy Wilcox is calling for La Cañada High School math teacher Gabrielle Leko to be fired, alleging, among other things, that she addressed a ninth grade geometry student as “Jew boy.”

Wilcox said she filed a formal complaint —as a member of the public — against the high school teacher in June, adding that it was based on numerous verbal grievances she received from school families about Leko. None of those families were willing to go on record with a complaint themselves, 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 Thursday.

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In a statement, Supt. Wendy Sinnette said that the district is taking the necessary steps to fully investigate the allegations.

“As a core value, 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. 

“The District, however, is mindful of the fact that the public complaint filed in this matter surfaces an allegation,” Sinnette continued. “Therefore, as fact finding proceeds, we urge that the parents and community keep an open mind until the review process is completed.”

Wilcox said that the “Jew boy” comment was made during a ninth-grade honors geometry class sometime last year, but could not provide a specific date. She also was unable to elaborate on the context of the comment, but said that she had spoken to multiple families who confirmed the incident.

The school board member said she has contacted the Anti-Defamation League and the ACLU regarding the comment.

In her complaint, and in an interview Thursday, Wilcox also alleged that Leko has a long history of discriminating against female students, but said that 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 seriously discredit the teachers’ union if they invest 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 Association, could not immediately be reached for comment Thursday morning.

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