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Mother of autistic son threatens to sue district
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The incensed mother of the child who is at the center of the investigation in connection with Manteca Unified special education teacher Leo Benet-Cauchon is talking about filing a lawsuit against the school district if the situation that is “threatening my son’s well being is not resolved quickly.”

Sharon Anaya, the mother of the severely autistic child, said she may file not just “an individual lawsuit but also a class action one for the other parents who share my concerns.”

She said her concerns revolve around how a government special education plan that her son has been placed under is “mistreating students with special needs, their parents and their teachers.”

In addition to mulling over a lawsuit, Anaya is also requesting an emergency review of the individualized education program that has been previously discussed with the school officials regarding the “physical supports” designed to honor her son’s requests – such as “up,” “squeeze,” and “kiss” – while in school.

In a rare and very candid speech before the Board of Trustees Tuesday night, Benet-Cauchon publicly revealed that he has been placed on paid leave while an investigation into what has been described as “improper relations” he had with a student is being conducted by the Manteca Police Department.

He maintained that everything he is being accused of doing is within the scope of his professional ethics and is in line with school district “past practice” as well as with the direction of the parents and that of the individualized education program put in place for the student. Benet-Cauchon also said that his speaking in public about the matter was discussed with his lawyer.

“I am doing so because the board is responsible for the policies which guide us. I want this conversation about how to care for students with significant challenges to be held in the open,” he said.

Anaya is in full agreement with Benet-Cauchon. She is standing firm in supporting not only Benet-Cauchon but also his wife Terry who, the enraged mother said, “have been the second/third most important individuals in our (lives).”

She said her child’s “most recent blossoming of saying a full sentence… has a lot to do with the extra care he has been receiving from (the Benet-Cauchons).” Without the help and support of the couple, Anaya said she would probably be “jobless, on welfare, depressed, and/or losing my home. As a mother, I cannot pay or thank them enough for saving me, but most importantly, saving Giovanni,” her son.

“The Benet-Cauchons have been consistent in working with me for the best interests of my son in our three-year relationship. We have become both friends and dedicated supporters of Giovanni’s growth. We have supported other parents as well and seek the continuously (ongoing) education, research and methodologies to better serve Giovanni. Giovanni has become a grandchild for them and they have become part of family that Giovanni feels, and seeks their love (on) a daily basis.”

Anaya maintains that the case involving Benet-Cauchon “is not a police and/or CPS (Child Protective Services) matter. When it comes down to my son’s well being, I am protective as a lion. I will do whatever it takes to ensure my son is given his full benefits and rights.”

Anaya said she has communicated all of the abovementioned concerns with school district officials including all members of the Board of Trustees.

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Surprise and shock at being contacted by Manteca PD

Anaya said she first learned about the investigation into the allegations made against Benet-Cauchon on Monday, Feb. 9, which was the day before the school board meeting.

“Imagine my surprise and shock to be contacted today… by a detective of the Manteca Police Department,” she stated in the email that was originally sent to school officials and, later, to the Bulletin with additional information. The revelations made in that phone call came even more of a shock considering only days before, after an hours-long meeting with school officials about her son’s care and education , she felt “reassurance” and “peace of mind” that “everything would be running smoothly from now on.”

Actually, she started having concerns about Benet-Cauchon on Friday, Feb. 6, when the principal at Veritas Elementary School contacted her and informed her that her son’s teacher “was going to be out for a while” without any further explanation. In fact, Anaya felt a bit guilty thinking it was Benet-Cauchon’s advocacy on behalf of her son which landed him into this trouble.

But she became really concerned after the call from the police investigator and being told about the “very serious allegations against Leo” involving her son. She described the phone call as “very disturbing, upsetting, and super disappointing.”

She said she told the investigator that “the allegations seemed baseless and that I saw no reason for the charges” that the police were considering filing against Benet-Cauchon.

During that telephone call, Anaya said, “I was also threatened of having my son removed from my home by CPS (Child Protective Services) if I allowed the Benet-Cauchons any access to (Giovanni) during the investigation process” by the investigator.

That her son would be removed from her home and placed in foster care if she continued the kind of one-and-one care she has chosen for her son by Benet-Cauchon is “unacceptable, ridiculous, baseless, and extremely irritating,” Anaya said.

“In the first place, the district failed to communicate the situation and violated my rights as a parent to be informed of such a situation. If (the) district would have contacted me about such investigation, things would still be in a district level and a meeting could have been scheduled to address any issues or concerns,” continued Anaya.

“My very special son is challenged in many ways but as a parent, advocate, employee, human being, I see his strengths and achievements above all. He is now just starting to use words to communicate some of his basic needs,” said Anaya.

When school district officials were asked why the investigation was “passed on” to the police department instead of conducting it on a district level, Deputy Superintendent Clark Burke sent the following response:

“The health and safety of our students and children at large is our number one concern. As employees of a school district, we are all Mandated Reporters. Mandated Reporters are required by state law to report any known or suspected instances of child abuse or neglect to the county child welfare department and/or to a local law enforcement agency (local police or sheriff’s department). Any time a Mandated Reporter has ‘reasonable suspicion’ of neglect or abuse regardless of proof, they are required to report the incident. Investigations will be conducted by law enforcement and/or the county welface department to determine if the abuse or neglect has occurred. In addition to the mandated requirement to report suspect abuse to an investigating authority, the district has the right to investigate potentially unprofessional behavior if a reported or observed incident(s) involved one of their employees.”

• • •

An ongoing challenge in teaching

Commenting on the online story, Benet-Cauchon wrote that he is “hoping that public sunshine is part of the solution,” and added that “balancing safety of students and trust in staff is an ongoing challenge in teaching.”

He also clarified that he “did change my practices with the student as soon as I received my principal’s guidelines” and followed that by providing “professional recommendations” to the Individualized Education Program team which, he states, is in the process of considering them.

He further opined that “unfortunately, the paid leave and police involvement complicate this school-based and individualized process,” but that “fortunately, the school has stepped up its support and the mother (Anaya) is now comfortable with returning her young son to class. (She removed him when I was removed.) Children first.” He added a smiley face at the end of that last sentence.