Parents of Special Education students in Manteca Unified and their supporters are holding a rally on Friday in front of the school district office to demand that district officials meet with them and reinstate teacher Leo Bennett-Cauchon to his job by Monday, March 2.
Some parents have reportedly pulled their children from class at Veritas Elementary School in protest since Bennett-Cauchon have been put on leave of absence without pay on Feb. 3 for alleged inappropriate touching involving one of his second-grade students. Sharon Anaya, whose 8-year-old son, Giovanni, was at the center of the allegations against the teacher, was one of those who took that action briefly but later reluctantly allowed her son to go back into the classroom while waging her own battle in support of the teacher by sending letters to the members of the Board of Trustees and to district officials.
As of Tuesday, some parents have also taken the step of finding other alternative placements for their children due to their concerns that the “majority” of the staffers who had been placed following the removal of “the experienced and known teacher” are “new to the children”. The parents, like Jennifer Landeros, said that is unacceptable and that, even more unacceptable is the fact “half of the experienced and known aides in the classroom were also reassigned as of Feb. 17.”
The parents are angry that after being informed on Feb. 19 that their children’s Special Ed teacher was on “an extended leave of absence… for a personnel matter,” they later learned from the news media that he was actually placed on leave on Feb. 3. Additionally, the parents are angry because in the same Feb. 19 letter, they were informed that the district is “not sure” when the teacher will be reinstated but again, learned later, that the investigation was concluded on Friday, Feb. 20, and that the findings will not be shared until March 3.
Landeros and other parents are concerned about the above developments because they said none of these have been communicated with them.
“Consistency and home/school communication is very important to meeting the special needs of our young children,” the prepared statement from the parents planning the rally stated.
The parents also stated that as of Tuesday, Feb. 24, they are taking steps toward finding and placing alternative instruction for their children away from Manteca Unified programs. Landeros, for one, has already contacted the Manteca Charter School, Great Valley Academy, for such a move.
“I hope they take his name. If they don’t, I’m going to another school in Modesto, or I’ll take him to a private school,” said Landeros who said several members of her family – an aunt as well as a cousin – are planning to attend the rally on Friday.
“They support Mr. B (the name Bennett-Cauchon is referred to by parents) one-hundred percent,” Landeros said of his relatives.
“He’s a good man, and his wife (Terry) is a good lady. He’s very compassionate, patient, and he listens to his kids. He steps up and gives them his support. He’s just a good man,” Landeros said of Bennett-Cauchon.
“Leo is all about the children; he is their first advocate, his passion for the profession is there, but most importantly he puts himself to the children’s level and works with them,” said parent Anaya.
Added another parent, Jessica Lopez, “Mr. B is a great teacher and a great person, and I know for a fact that he has always had the best interests of my child.”
Bennett-Cauchon, meanwhile, is continuing his daily vigil and fasting during business hours in front of the entrance to the district office on West Louise Avenue to get Superintendent Jason Messer to meet with him and discuss his reinstatement to his job. He briefly broke his fast on Saturday, at the urging of his wife when his legs started getting weak, but restarted it again on Monday when he took his vigil to Lathrop High School for just that day.
“The Monday vigil at Lathrop (High) was an outreach to all the teachers gathered there for the (Common Core standards) conference. I was to present ‘Dancing to the Core’ but was cancelled at the last minute,” Bennett-Cauchon explained.