Education

Laton Unified superintendent placed on leave. Teachers say he created a hostile work environment

Superintendent Victor Villar was placed on leave in a special meeting of the Laton Unified School District Board of Trustees on Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2019.
Superintendent Victor Villar was placed on leave in a special meeting of the Laton Unified School District Board of Trustees on Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2019. Laton Unified School District

Laton Unified superintendent Victor Villar has been placed on paid administrative leave following allegations that Villar had a relationship with an employee creating a hostile work environment for other staff, according to a complaint filed by the California Federation of Teachers.

Villar was placed on leave in a special meeting of the district’s board of trustees Wednesday and an acting superintendent was appointed, but director of human resources Tammy Alves declined to provide any additional details, citing personnel matters.

The complaint accuses Villar of engaging in “behavior of an intimate nature” with a subordinate, and later treating a teacher with knowledge of their relationship with hostility. The situation led to “a work environment that interferes with at least one bargaining unit member’s ability to complete her work responsibilities,” the complaint states.

The complaint further cites an anonymous letter sent to the district that alleged that Villar had a pattern of hiring unqualified individuals for certificated positions, including his romantic partner.

The union’s letter concludes that Villar puts the district at risk of litigation on the grounds of sexual harassment, and other charges of a hostile work environment.

Villar said he has no comment at this time, citing an ongoing investigation.

Union representative Shannon Wilson said the anonymous letter highlights the tense climate created by Villar during his leadership of the district.

“I do hope they find a new superintendent,” Wilson said. “They should also let go any administrator that doesn’t have the qualifications for the position they’re in.”

Over 100 students protested with a march to Laton Unified District headquarters Thursday, March 10, 2016.

Former board member Rick Adams said he hopes that the move will help the district address some larger issues of teacher morale and retention. Laton Unified lost 50 percent of its teaching staff the previous school year, according to Adams and Wilson, some who were terminated and some who left for better pay and climate at other districts.

“The real problem I have is the staff is treated terribly, kids are leaving the district and the district thinks the real problem is lack of new facilities when in reality the problem is teacher turnover, low employee morale in general and lack of programs at the high school, none of which are facilities issues,” Adams said. “Every school has facilities needs, but what are facilities without students and teachers?”

Laton has approximately 700 students and 50 teachers. In 2016, students walked out of their classrooms in protest of the high rate of teacher turnover, as well as the lack of diversity among administrators and school board members.

“I know teachers love this small community and that they’re trying to make a difference in these kids’ lives. I don’t know that they can take another year of turmoil,” Wilson said. “Students and teachers deserve better.”

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