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Community criticizes school board over Leko complaint

Parents, student want to see resolution to issue involving alleged slur.

November 16, 2011|By Tiffany Kelly, tiffany.kelly@latimes.com
  • Debra Archuleta shrugs her shoulders when she addressed the LCUSD school board when she was asking for answers regarding an incident at the school when a teacher addressed a student with an alleged anti-Semitic language, at a La Canada Unified School District board meeting at district headquarters in La Canada Flintridge on Tuesday, November 15, 2011. (Tim Berger/Staff Photographer)
Debra Archuleta shrugs her shoulders when she addressed…

Upset with a process they called ineffective and shameful, community members Tuesday castigated the La Cañada Unified School District’s handling of a teacher accused of making inappropriate remarks and racial slurs.

Gabrielle Leko, a math teacher at La Cañada High, allegedly denigrated racial groups on a regular basis and referred to one of her geometry students as “Jew boy” during the 2010-11 school year. The complaint was filed by Cindy Wilcox, a current member of the board, last June. Wilcox did not run for reelection, and her term ends next month.

Though not on the board’s agenda, several people took advantage of the meeting’s open comment period to complain that the district is not doing enough to address racism and sexism.

Leko and district officials met to discuss the allegations on Oct. 26. Supt. Wendy Sinnette said the district will give notice when its investigation is complete, but added the outcome will remain private, as it is a personnel issue.

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But parents, who said they understood the district’s confidentiality concerns, questioned why the process has dragged on so long.

“This wouldn’t have happened if it was a kid on the school yard,” said Belinda Randolph, whose children attend La Cañada schools. “All those kids would have been brought in at that moment, not eight months later.”

Debra Archuleta, the only parent to add her name to Wilcox’s complaint, questioned why no other parents came forward. She called the school board’s actions “somewhat shameful.”

“I erroneously assumed that this would be a personnel issue handled at the school level,” Archuleta said.

Archuleta’s daughter, Alyssa Stolmack, a sophomore at La Cañada High, told the board that Leko insulted students who have speech impediments and targeted Armenians, Korean women and several other groups.

“It was all very atrocious,” she said. “The fact that my concerns and the concerns of my peers were not taken seriously, at least ostensively, is very concerning to me and the rest of my peers.”

She said other students from her geometry class, where Leko allegedly addressed a student as “Jew boy,” were afraid to speak out because they feared retribution.

“We don’t feel safe and the fact that we can’t come and comfortably address such a horrible and pressing issue is really disturbing,” Stolmack added.

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