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Online petition seeks teacher reinstatement
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After a series of bad news and setbacks, Manteca Unified Special Ed teacher Leo Bennett-Cauchon who has been fighting for his reinstatement on the job for more than a month now has a bit of good news going his way.

The good news is an online petition at aimed at getting him reinstated. The online petition, “Teacher Suspended for Hugging Autistic Student Must be Reinstated,” targets Superintendent Jason Messer, and the stated goal is to “reinstate teacher suspended for hugging a special needs student.”

A brief background of the story behind the suspension precedes a form petition letter addressed to the superintendent with a space below where the letter writer can add his or her name.

The three-paragraph letter reads: “Leo Bennett-Cauchon, a special needs teacher for 16 years, was recently suspended for hugging an autistic child when the child asked for a hug. Bennett was specially trained to deal with special needs children, who sometimes need human contact to calm themselves.

“Not only was the teacher suspended for hugging the child, but the school district decided to involve the police despite the child’s mother asserting that Bennett dealt with her child appropriately. These trumped-up allegations are not only ridiculous but could even end the teacher’s career.

“By suspending Bennett, the school district has shown disregard for the well-being of its special needs students, who need the stability of a regular teacher, and sometimes, physical contact. We, the undersigned, demand that the school district apologize for suspending Bennett for simply doing his job, and that he is immediately allowed to return to work.”

The group, ForceChange, according to its website, is a “community… of passionate individuals who care deeply about issues such as animal rights, the environment, human rights, social justice, progressive politics, and more.”

It goes on further to say that its members are “writers, students, professionals, activists, and citizens,” and that its aim is to “provide the important news, policy and analysis intended to arm people with the information and tools necessary to force change in the unsustainable status quo.”

ForceChange also has a newsletter that is received by approximately 400,000 members.

As of Sunday, March 8, Bennett-Cauchon remains barred from all school facilities and parent meetings involving his special needs students, in addition to being banned from his classroom at Veritas Elementary School.

However, he is allowed to attend school board meetings as a citizen, which is what happened at the March 3 board meeting where Sharon Anaya, the mother of the 8-year-old student whom he was accused of inappropriate touching, distributed a letter from her and other parent supporters asking for his reinstatement to the job.

The investigation into the incident by the Manteca Police Department has not been concluded, but he had an investigation review hearing the afternoon of the board meeting. However, no conclusion or determination has been made.

Bennett-Cauchon has also indicated in his comment on his Facebook page that Anaya has been contacted by Child Protective Services “due to allegations of neglect for leaving her son in the care of someone who is ‘under investigation,’” referring to Bennett-Cauchon. He and his wife, Terry, who is also a special ed teacher who is battling cancer and so is on medical leave, are “honorary” grandparents to Anaya’s son and provide help to the family so Anaya can continue to go to work and therefore, keep her job.