The ongoing investigation by Manteca Police into alleged improper relations with a student by Manteca Unified special ed teacher Leo Bennett-Cauchon involves not just one student, according to school district officials.
That statement was made by Superintendent Jason Messer during a telephone interview on Thursday when he was asked to make a comment about the ongoing vigil and hunger strike in front of the district office by Bennett-Cauchon in his effort to reinstate him to his job.
“I legally can’t talk about an ongoing investigation or talk about the individual, but what I can share is, we’re not talking about one accusation, not just one student,” Messer said.
If the school district is the only one involved in pursuing the case, “our investigation could potentially end quicker,” he explained. But since it involves the police, “I can’t control the time it takes police to do their job. I don’t believe the police would continue the investigation if it’s not warranted or needed.”
In a previous interview, Bennett-Cauchon said he was aware about the police looking into the possibility that there were “repeated acts of inappropriate behavior” and that “there could be multiple victims.” The information was contained in a written communication from the police department to the accused teacher, a copy of which was obtained by the Bulletin.
Bennett-Cauchon also told the newspaper that other people may have concerns that he hugs his students, but explained that his students who include those who are homeless and have been in the foster care system sometimes just need a hug.
The mother of the student he mentioned to the board but did not identify is staunchly supporting Bennett-Cauchon. Sharon Anaya has, in fact, told school district officials in a letter, a copy of which was obtained by the Bulletin, that Bennett-Cauchon and his wife, Terry, have been like family and have been, for the last three years, her only support system in the care of her severely autistic son, Giovanni, who is 8 years old.
A few days after he received the message from the school district that he was being placed on administrative leave with pay, Bennett-Cauchon appeared before the Board of Trustees and informed them of the charges made against him, admitted that they were true but denied any wrongdoing. He explained that everything he was being accused of doing was within the scope of his job’s professional ethics and was in conformance with the language contained in the student’s individualized education program with the consent of his mother.
• • •
Police can’t conform or deny if there are multiple accusations
When asked about the number of students being investigated in the case involving Bennett-Cauchon, Sgt. Julie Renfroe who is the officer in charge of the Manteca Police Detectives Department, she did not have any information about the investigation right now and “can’t confirm or deny” that there was only one student involved.
Commenting on the ongoing vigil and hunger strike being conducted on a daily basis during business hours by Bennett-Cauchon to get the superintendent to act on his request for job reinstatement, Messer said, “It would be inappropriate for me to meet with him to grant a request. I couldn’t meet with him right now because he’s not allowed on campus.”
As part of his vigil, Bennett-Cauchon has been working to make 1,000 origami paper cranes that he plans to present to Messer as a peace offering. Completion of a thousand paper cranes, in the Japanese culture and tradition, means that a wish or hope would be granted. Bennett-Cauchon has said that he plans to make the crane presentation to Messer at his office on Monday even at the risk of being arrested by police.
Messer said he was aware of the teacher’s plan; however, “I can’t comment on that,” adding, “there’s no peace that needs to be made.”
Not being allowed to step on the grounds of the school district office is part of the directive given to Bennett-Cauchon in the hand-delivered Feb 3 letter from Director of Certificated Personnel Margaret Barnett. The letter informed him that he was “hereby directed to:
• remain off all district facilities. You are not to attend any school activities or functions during the period of administrative leave. This does not include School Board meetings held at the District Office building or union/MEA activities.
• Refrain from discussing this issue with concerned parties, faculty, staff, students, or parents.
• Do not make contact with any parties connected with this investigation, other than District Office administrators, until you receive further notice from the District.
• For the duration of this leave you must make yourself available at my request during normal working hours. Please advise me if your telephone number or address should change during this leave.”
Bennett-Cauchon said he believes the 1:1 support team employee who reported the Giovanni incident was not the only one who has made allegations about him involving other students. He also categorically denies that his actions toward the students were inappropriate.