Leo Bennett-Cauchon, the special education teacher who has been on leave of absence with pay since Feb. 3 due to a complaint about inappropriately touching a student, is back to his teaching job.
That comes on the heels of the conclusion of Manteca Unified School District’s and Manteca Police’s investigation into the complaint lodged against him. Bennett-Cauchon was told by district officials that he will be receiving a report of the investigation findings on April 9.
He was further informed that he will be receiving “a 45/90-day notice of unprofessional conduct and unsatisfactory performance related to incidents and deficiencies discovered during the investigation.”
His return to work also followed meetings he had, first, with Superintendent Jason Messer on Tuesday, and then with district Senior Director of Education and Special Services Roger Goatcher on Wednesday.
On Thursday, he reported back to work since being placed on leave on Feb. 3.
His return to work carries with it certain directives which were specified in a hand-delivered March 25 memo from Manteca Unified Deputy Superintendent Clark Burke.
The directives which required Bennett-Cauchon to comply with effective immediately included the following:
• follow all district rules, guidelines, protocols, school board policies, and administrative regulations related to special education students;
• prepare weekly lesson plans for each student that complies with the students independent education plans (IEPs), and submit lesson plans each Friday to (Veritas School) principal Tracie Crawford;
• use district computers and/or other electronic equipment only for educational purposes;
• exercise good judgment and act professionally in interactions with students, parents and staff while being mindful of the potential harmful impact his conduct may have on the educational and workplace environment;
• do not transport students in personal vehicle.
• do not retaliate against any staff for reporting your actions to administration.
In his memo to Bennett-Cauchon, Burke clarified that “none of the above directives are meant to diminish your right to communicate with your students and/or parents regarding that student’s educational program.” Further, the directives must be followed “regardless of whether a parent has provided written permission to engage in such conduct.”
Whether the decision to allow Bennett-Cauchon back to teaching his special-needs students was influenced by the more than 1,507 signed online petitions (as of March 27) sent to the superintendent urging him to let the teacher go back to his job is not certain at this time.
In addition to meeting with the superintendent, Bennett-Cauchon, at his request, also met with Detective Steven Schluer with the Manteca Police Department.
The result of the police investigation is now being reviewed by the San Joaquin County District Attorney.
While he was happy and “gratified” to be able to return to teaching his students, Bennett-Cauchon said he is saddened that this resolution, at least up to this point for now, has not been made more expeditiously and in a manner that would have been to the benefit of the students. He is also of the opinion that a quicker resolution would have prevented the “burning up” of police and school district resources.
“We are back to where we should have started,” he commented when reached late Thursday. “It’s just sad that it took so long.”
Bennett-Cauchon was placed on leave with pay on Feb. 3 because of a complaint that he inappropriately touched one of his students. After the complaint was filed, he went before the Board of Trustees during their regular meeting and said the alleged complaints were true; however, he explained that his actions were part of an understanding he had with the student’s parent and in accordance to previously discussed and approved independent educational plan by all parties involved to help the student.
Getting back to work also concluded his vigil and fasting in front of the school district on West Louise Avenue. At one point, he was joined by several parents of his students who held a rally in support of his fight to get back his job and to have him return teaching their children in school. Some of the parents pulled their children out of the classroom after Bennett-Cauchon was removed from the classroom.
To contact Rose Albano Risso, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 209.249.3536.