Leslie Swan was shaking as she approached the podium at the Madera Unified school board meeting last week, where she publicly addressed something she says she has known for more than a decade. A teacher who works at Madera South High has a history of inappropriate relationships with his teen students, she told the school board, but he’s still teaching there.
“I want to know how you can justify keeping a sexual predator on whom you yourselves have kept detailed records, continuing to allow him access to underage girls for all these years. To avoid embarrassment? Is that worth young, Mexican immigrant girls being sexually assaulted?” Swan, a former Madera South High teacher, asked the board May 24 through tears. “It is unconscionable of you.”
The teacher in question was placed on paid leave on May 26, and the district is investigating the accusations – some of which date back nearly 20 years. Madera Unified Superintendent Ed Gonzalez said that although the accusations predate his time as superintendent, they are being taken seriously.
“Obviously our concern is for the safety and security of the students, and because of the serious nature of those allegations, it warranted me taking that action. We are obligated to look into it – even for students that have left our system,” Gonzalez said. “My position is these allegations surfaced last Tuesday on my watch, and I’m going to do everything I can to make sure we thoroughly investigate them. And if there’s evidence of wrongdoing, the district is going to connect with law enforcement, because of course it would be a crime if the allegations are true.”
According to a report filed with the Madera Police Department in 2007, a Madera Unified administrator told police he had received several statements regarding an alleged sexual relationship between a former student and the teacher. The teacher was accused of having unlawful sex with a minor from 1999 to 2003, according to the report, but those accusations didn’t surface until years later.
The teacher and student would have sex at school during lunch hour, and he would “draw the curtains and put a paper over the small window of the locked door,” the police report says. Then, Swan and a former Madera South student told police that the girl became pregnant, and the teacher convinced her to have an abortion. The alleged victim never gave a statement to police despite officers’ repeated attempts to learn what happened to her, so the investigation did not move forward. Neither she nor the teacher returned The Bee’s requests for comment.
But the alleged victim’s best friend at the time says she remembers the affair with the teacher vividly.
Oyuki Rubi, a former Madera South student who is now 32, said she used to drive the girl to the teacher’s apartment in Fresno. She remembers the teacher telling her to help her friend look more attractive for him – to “teach her how to dress like the preppy girls.” She says the two of them had a sexual relationship all through high school, starting when the girl was 14 and the teacher was in his 30s, and that the girl became pregnant with the teacher’s baby shortly after graduation.
“We would have a substitute teacher, and she wouldn’t be in school, and I would know they were together. Her and I were like sisters. We told each other everything,” Rubi said. “I told her many, many times it was wrong. But I didn’t know how to confront him at the time. I was young, and he was a teacher. Who was going to believe me, you know?”
Rubi said she called the teacher when the girl found out she was pregnant, demanding that he help take care of the baby and support her young friend.
“I told him he needed to be responsible for this child, and his remark was like, ‘Oyuki, listen to me. You’ve got to help us. I’m a teacher. I can’t have a scandal. I can’t do this. She’s young,’ ” she said. “And then he was using it against her – like what would her parents think of her? They were very Catholic and never knew about this relationship. He pretty much forced her to get an abortion.”
Rubi said that over the years, she has urged her old friend to report to the police what happened, but with no success.
“I can’t believe he still works there. It makes me mad that other young ladies could be falling in his trap,” she said. “He’s not targeting those girls that are wide awake or fluent in English. I think he’s targeting more of the vulnerable young ladies – those who are struggling.”
Another police report, filed in 2012, accuses the same teacher of annoying/molesting a different child at Madera South, writing her notes and giving her passes to see him in class alone.
Both police reports were initiated by Swan, who had a month-long relationship with the teacher in 2002. But she said she ended it due to “red flags,” and that the complaints she heard from students over the years were eerily similar to her own experiences with him.
In a different incident in 2003 that was not reported to police, Swan claims another female student said the teacher was making inappropriate advances toward her. Then, the teacher was suspended for three days due to the accusations, but no police report was filed because there were no accusations of physical contact, Swan said.
“That girl came to me in tears. She thought her teacher just really liked her, but he tried to take it a step further and asked for her email and was coming onto her,” Swan said. “The way she described him approaching her was identical to the way he approached me.”
Swan claims that the teacher, who teaches English as a second language, targets Hispanic girls who are English learners and has a pattern of “grooming young Mexican immigrant girls for sexual relationships.”
Detective Alicia Keiser, with the sex crimes unit of the Madera Police Department, did not comment on the allegations, but said it’s common for victims of sex crimes not to report.
“We have to have a cooperating victim to be able to move forward. If a victim is not willing to cooperate with the investigation, our hands are tied, so those cases unfortunately are closed. But they can always be reopened if they are willing to come forward,” Keiser said. “Sex crimes are a very shameful thing to be a victim of. It’s difficult, emotionally and physically on the victim. A lot of times, it comes with a lot of guilt and emotions that often can prevent somebody from coming forward.”