Three sets of parents have sent the Los Lunas School District notice of their intent to file a civil personal injury lawsuit regarding a teacher who, they charge, showed their children an inappropriate picture.
The parents allege that on Feb. 28 a teacher subjected their three children, all sixth-grade students in the gifted program at Raymond Gabaldon Intermediate, to what they call a “pornagraphic picture.”
Anthony Escajeda said the teacher was using his personal laptop computer to show his students, including Escajeda’s 12-year-old son, some school-related photos.
“The boys came over and were standing behind him. That’s when the picture popped up of the teacher with his pants down. The boys responded negatively and turned their heads,” Escajeda said.
Ben Bauer, the instructor’s attorney, spoke on his client’s behalf Friday. “This was a file which he thought had been deleted. It was intended to be personal. He never intended to show it to anyone, most particularly children. It was an accidental and unfortunate incident,” Bauer said.
Attempts to contact the teacher were unsuccessful.
Superintendent Danny Burnett said the teacher acted inappropriately.
“The situation was investigated by the district and our insurance company thoroughly,” Burnett said Thursday.
The district then looked to see if the situation was an isolated incident or if anything similar had occurred in this individual’s past.
“We could not find any other record at places he had been in the district before. Therefore, this teacher was immediately put on paid administrative leave,” Burnett said.
The employee returned to the district, but not at RGI. He was put on temporary assignment at Manzano Vista Middle School for the remainder of the school year.
The teacher, who claimed he unintentionally opened the photo, later chose to resign the position, Burnett said. “That individual is no longer with the district.”
Burnett contacted the district attorney’s office in Los Lunas once the incident was reported.
“There was no way we could have known he would do this. There was nothing that would have predicted it. The district did take appropriate action. We tried to safeguard the rights of the families and their children, and the employee. We followed the law,” the superintendent said.
John Kennedy, the school district’s attorney, said the parents have two years to file a lawsuit against the Los Lunas Schools.
“This is one thing that should not have happened,” Kennedy said. “As a school administrator, you don’t have control over every employee and what they do. You can only take the action you think is appropriate. I think Danny Burnett and the Los Lunas School Board have done that.”
Six of Escajeda’s 11 children are currently attending the Los Lunas Schools, one of whom is a senior at the high school.
“I don’t feel the school system in Los Lunas is a safe place. Right now I’m looking at other avenues, without disrupting them too much,” he said.
As far as Escajeda is concerned, the district did not properly report the incident and has endangered the health of the students at both RGI and MVMS.
“The superintendent should not have removed the teacher to another area without notifying the parents. They just put him back to work,” he said.
“The parents have a right to know what’s going on. What if something had happened? This is not an open-and-shut case,” he said.
If the district attorney doesn’t file criminal charges, Escajeda said, the parents will be left with no alternative but to file a civil suit against the teacher and the district.
On March 4, Escajeda filed a report with the Los Lunas Police Department, and the incident is currently under investigation.
“There is more follow-up that needs to be done on the case,” Detective Lt. Charles Nuanes said. “Next week I should have a complete investigated case to turn over to the district attorney’s office for review. I’ll let them review it, and they will make a decision on how to proceed, as far as charges go and what route to take.”
Nuanes has not talked with the teacher but has interviewed the students involved.
Melinda Hernandez, the mother of one of the boys involved, said she is still trying to see how the situation has affected her son.
“Mentally and emotionally, he has his moments. He’s not crying. He was very nervous and embarrassed to tell me about what happened. I’m very proud of him,” she said.
Before this incident, Hernandez said, she liked her son’s teacher, and they got along.
“To this day, no one has told the parents and teachers what’s happening. Why wasn’t anyone notified?
“I feel like the school has lied to us about everything. They should have come to us first.”
Paula Chavez-Talley is one parent who testified on the teacher’s behalf in front of the Los Lunas School Board. Her son was in the teacher’s class for almost two years.
“He is the finest teacher my son has ever had. I can’t say enough good things about him. I feel he’s a fine role model on how to be a responsible adult and a good man,” she said.
“I’m deeply distressed a situation was blown out of proportion. Unsubstantiated fear was allowed to cancel out all the years of good work he’s done.
“Not only did the students in his classroom lose him, but all those who didn’t have the opportunity to have him as a teacher lost him too.”
Parent Ernest Seiger says the instructor challenged his kids academically. “He had fifth and sixth graders keeping up with current events and writing reports weekly. As parents, we believed he was getting them ready for college. We thought he was an asset to the community. What happened was a mistake. We were hoping he would be able to stay.”
According to Juliette Castillo, assistant superintendent of personnel, the Los Lunas School Board officially accepted the teacher’s resignation at a special personnel meeting Thursday night.