LOS LUNAS — Holding back tears, a former Valencia High School student told her side of the story, advocating for the expansion of the district’s ethical code of conduct policy and implementation of a new social media use policy.
In February 2020, former VHS substitute teacher Lawrence Larson allegedly sexually assaulted the student, who shared details of her experience at the Sept. 28 special meeting of the Los Lunas Schools Governing Committee.
“I don’t want anybody else to be scarred like this because it’s not fair,” she said. “I am hoping that you all will pass this policy to protect everyone, every girl and guy that is just like me, and also to bring justice to those who haven’t gotten justice because they haven’t come forward about anything that has happened to them.”
The student’s father filed a civil lawsuit against the Los Lunas Board of Education, as a body, as well as several district administrators in May, alleging they knew Larson was a danger to “vulnerable females” due to past allegations of sexual assault. An August response from the school district denied the allegations.
In February 2020, Larson was charged with criminal sexual contact of a minor and false imprisonment, but the charges were dismissed without prejudice, meaning they could be filed again at a later date.
The student said Larson began to groom her at 15, when he was her freshman advisory teacher.
“He would talk about my personal life and about his personal life and about his relationship struggles. If he saw me upset, he would try and figure out why I was upset,” she said. “He would ask me about things that didn’t really involve school, but I didn’t really think anything of it because I thought he was being nice.”
Things escalated during the next school year, when he would allegedly engage in inappropriate conversations with the student, talking about his marital problems and how he would pursue her romantically if he was her age, the student said.
“On February 13 of 2020, I lost all confidence in myself, (I pushed away the) want to do school and all of my friends — just everything I held really important to me, because on that day he actually touched me,” she said, again holding back tears.
The student detailed what Larson did to her that day, including groping her, not allowing her to leave the room they were in and telling her, “if he didn’t think (she) was going to report him or get mad or punch him that he would have groped (her) again.”
“This incident has scarred me for almost two years. I am scared for my life half the time. I don’t know how to do school. I can’t be around guys. I can’t be screamed at without flipping out. I can’t go out with my friends. I can’t be away from my parents because I’m scared something is going to happen to me,” the student told the committee. “They have me on meds because I wanted to kill myself after all of this happened.”
Marty Esquivel, an attorney assigned to the district by its liability insurance company, told the governing committee the situation exemplifies why the district should accept the additions to the Los Lunas Schools employee handbook.
“Times are changing, obviously. While social media and text messaging enhance and expedite communications, they can also be misused,” Esquivel said, before inviting the student to address the committee.
The policy expands on the existing employee and certified personnel code of ethics prohibiting contact with a student through text messaging or other social media outside of “necessary communications related to school.”
It also expands on the subsection on reporting and reasonable suspicion of ethical misconduct, including discriminatory practices and sexual misconduct or offense.
The proposed changes also include a large expansion to the district’s internet use policies, including prohibiting communications with students, limiting any online classroom activities to “school district-sanctioned online tools.”
The consideration of these policy changes also comes after Jason Bindues, a former Los Lunas High School coach, was charged with 14 counts of sexual crimes against a minor who was on his team.
Bindues was contacted by the 15-year old victim through text messages.
The charges were dismissed last month as the district attorney’s office waits for law enforcement to conclude an investigation into the case. The charges, however, can be refiled after the investigation is completed.
The policy will be read for the third time during the Oct. 19 Los Lunas Schools Governing Committee meeting, after which it will be considered for approval.
(If you are in crisis, the New Mexico Crisis and Access Line is available 24 hours a day at 1-855-NMCRISIS (662-7474). It’s free and confidential.
If you have been a victim of sexual assault, you can reach out to the Valencia Shelter Services at its 24-hour hotline at 505-864-1383.)
Makayla Grijalva was born and raised in Las Cruces. She is a 2020 graduate of The University of New Mexico, where she studied multimedia journalism, political science and history. She covers the village of Los Lunas, Los Lunas Schools, SODA and the town of Peralta.