SMMUSD HDQTRS ¬ó A Malibu High School teacher accused of slapping a female student at least four times for failing to bring a notebook to class did nothing of the sort, the superintendent of schools said Friday.
Sandra Lyon told the Daily Press that the teacher, identified in news reports as Jennifer Gonzalez, playfully patted the ninth grader and that there was no intent to harm the student.
¬ìThe teacher was trying to encourage the student to give her best efforts in the last few weeks of school,¬î Lyon said, describing the incident as more of an innocent exchange rather than a frustrated, abusive outburst. ¬ìAs far as we know, up to this point the student has had a very positive relationship with this teacher.¬î
The incident, which allegedly took place on May 22, is currently under investigation by the Los Angeles County Sheriff¬ís Department after the family of Dionne Evans filed a police report last week.
Evans¬í family has since hired an attorney and is threatening to file a civil lawsuit against the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District.
The teacher walked to the student¬ís desk and then asked her if she had seen the movie ¬ìBridesmaids.¬î She then began slapping the student multiple times, according to the family¬ís attorney, Donald Karpel.
In a scene from the movie, one character literally tries to slap some sense into another. To view the scene, go to www.youtube.com and search for ¬ìBridesmaids Annie and Megan¬ís talk part 1.¬î
Karpel said it does not matter if it was a pat or slaps.
¬ìIt was an unauthorized touch,¬î he said. ¬ìMy client¬ís cheeks were stinging for several hours afterwards.
Karpel said his client has not returned to the classroom and has been completing coursework in the school¬ís library.
¬ìShe has been humiliated and devastated,¬î Karpel said. ¬ìShe¬ís in therapy for post-traumatic stress.¬î
Karpel said he has a letter from Gonzalez apologizing for the incident.
¬ìI want to tell you how truly sorry I am,¬î the letter says. ¬ìMy intention was never to hurt you or embarrass you. Rather, I was trying to reach out to you and help you focus on your school work and motivate you.
¬ìEven though I thought my intentions were honorable, they did not come out that way and for that I am so very sorry. Please know that I feel terrible about causing you pain and would like the opportunity to make it right.¬î
Lyon said the teacher, who has not been identified by district officials, was removed from the classroom for a few days while administrators conducted an internal investigation. She is now back in the classroom.
The results of the internal investigation, which Lyon would not disclose per district policy, have been given to the sheriff¬ís Special Victims Unit, which is looking into the allegations.
The president of the Santa Monica branch of the NAACP called on the district to suspend the teacher indefinitely. Evans is African American.
Lyon said race is not a factor.
¬ìThere was no racial intent or motivation on the part of the teacher,¬î she said.
In an interview with KLTA News, Evans said she did not want to report the incident at first, but a bus driver told her to speak up.
¬ìI tried to convince myself that I was overreacting and part of me had felt guilty,¬î Evans told the television station.
¬ìThen I was like, ¬ëYou can¬ít be in denial about your feelings.¬í Like, I was genuinely offended and I felt hurt and embarrassed.¬î