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Teacher controversy simmers

Students defend math instructor accused of racial slur, but board member says dismissal is in order.

October 19, 2011|By Megan O'Neil, megan.oneil@latimes.com

A complaint filed against a local high school math teacher has sent shock waves through La Cañada Flintridge, with some students rallying in her defense and all four school board candidates criticizing the public nature of the accusation.

La Cañada school board member Cindy Wilcox filed a formal complaint in June alleging that La Cañada High School math teacher Gabrielle Leko addressed a ninth-grade geometry student as “Jew boy,” and that she regularly discriminated against female students, among other offenses.

In the week since Wilcox’s complaint became public — it was originally reported by the news website La Cañada Flintridge Patch — numerous students have come forward in her defense. Several said that they suspected the grievance stems from overzealous parents whose children underperformed in the math teacher’s class. Others volunteered that they have never seen Leko behave in a malicious manner.

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“Mrs. Leko is a really nice person, and if you ever saw her teach, you would never believe that she would ever say something like “Jew boy” out of hatred,” said La Cañada High School student Garrett Apel, who is currently taking a class from Leko. “She’ll make jokes once in a while, but they’re always appropriate.”

When asked about the controversy during a forum Monday, school board candidates largely skirted the issue, saying that it should not be addressed publicly.

“This is not something that should have been brought into the court of public opinion,” school board candidate Ellen Multari said. “It should have been dealt with in the proper channels. Now we are all speculating as to what happened.”

But Wilcox’s complaint has added momentum to a community discussion about board policies regarding complaints and teacher evaluations.

“It might be a good time for the board and staff to reconsider some of the policies laid out in the uniform complaint procedures,” La Cañada Unified parent James Stoker said at the school board meeting Tuesday. “In particular, I noticed in those procedures no promise of protection for either the parents or the students from negative consequences arising from filing a complaint.”

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