Jul 29, 2014
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School Board Preserves Third-Party Complaints

After months of hashing out changes to the LCUSD employee complaint policy, the governing board has signed off on language that will entertain third-party complaints beginning at an informal level.

School Board Preserves Third-Party Complaints

Complaints filed by people who are neither victims of nor witness to inappropriate conduct by La Cañada Unified School District employees will be entertained at the informal level, followed by a superintendent's review, the governing board has ruled.

In a unanimous vote Tuesday, following hours-long heated discussions about the complaint policy during three separate meetings, board members agreed that the new language protects all community stakeholders: children, teachers and parents.

The case of Gabrielle Leko spurred the policy revision, after parents railed against the governing board for a faulty and protracted process that frequently left complainants confused or feeling outright forgotten. Leko, accused of calling a student "Jew boy,'' and found to have used ethnically biased language in the classroom, settled with the district last month for $215,000. She will leave her position in June.

Originally, revised wording suggested that a complaint would not be entertained if brought by someone who did not see the actionable incident, nor was the victim of the alleged incident.

In the case of Leko, former school board member Cindy Wilcox filed a public complaint against the veteran teacher and chair of the math department at . Wilcox did not see Leko's behavior herself, but brought the complaint last June after having been told about it from people who did see it. Feeling the district was not moving forward with the complaint process, Wilcox went public with it in October. Ultimately, an investigation found that Leko had used discriminatory language in the classroom. 

In revising the complaint process' wording, it appeared that the board was trying to make it more difficult for a third-party's complaint to matter. Several parents addressed this point, and board members subsequently wrote several drafts, stating that they want the process to be transparent. 

On Tuesday, member Andrew Blumenfeld asked Superintendent Wendy Sinnette point blank if Wilcox' complaint would have been entertained under the newest policy revision.

Sinnette said although she took issue with the way Wilcox' complaint was raised [the public arena] the allegations had enough merit "that it would have brought the complaint through to fulfillment.''

She added: Take away the press, the public outrage, and all kinds of things that potentially skewed the process and "I think it would have passed the litmus test.''

Revised Complaint Policy

Third party complaints now will be evaluated at the informal level. If the complainant is not satisfied with the outcome, he or she may next complain to the superintendent in writing. From there:

Based upon the merits of the complaint and the follow-through at the site, the Superintendent or designee shall determine if the non-witness/non-parental complaint will be accepted for review at the Superintendent (Level 2) of the formal complaint procedure. 

The superintendent or designee has 10 days to make this decision. From there, the superintendent will issue a written determination to the complainant, employee and governing board.

Furthermore, teacher are bound by state law to report any suspected illegal activity. Board policy requires that they notify an administrator if they learn of any suspected inappropriate behavior by another staff member.

Governing board member Ellen multari, who helped to redraft the policy, summed it up like this: "The complaint could be reviewed three times: at the site, by the superintendent and finally by the board.''

For Wilcox, she said she's pleased the new language preserves third-party complaints. As for the superintendent intervening between the informal and the formal processes, she said it's just "an extra'' step, but that the critical aspect is that complaints will be considered even if the person didn't witness the act.

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