'Absolutely disgusting': Parents blast PPS over transfer of teacher with troubled past

Carolyn Myers, who filed a $700,000 lawsuit against Portland Public Schools and teacher Sam Leach, talks to fellow parents, teachers and administrators at Lent K-8 School in Southeast Portland.

Carolyn Myers, the mother of a Portland Public Schools (PPS) student, has filed a $700,000 lawsuit against the district accusing it of condoning "a violent and hostile education environment" at her son's school.

She and other parents at Lent K-8 School in Southeast Portland gave Superintendent Guadalupe Guerrero an earful on Wednesday.

Their accusations stem in part from findings KATU broke in a story about a teacher's past on May 10.

The teacher, Sam Leach, was able to get multiple transfers and raises after he was disciplined for allegedly abusing kindergartners and third graders.

Guerrero listened as parents unloaded on him and other administrators during a PTA meeting at Lent Wednesday morning. The event mainly focused on the district's handling of Leach.

"It is absolutely disgusting," said Lindsay Commodore, the mother of a first grader, regarding the repercussions of the district's actions. "I am appalled at the evidence of how that came to be, how he came to be here despite the red flags; red flag after red flag, well-documented."

Leach went on unpaid leave in February, announcing it was for medical reasons in a school announcement posted on YouTube.

Before that he worked as a school climate coach at Lent, a role parents described as a disciplinary position.

Last month KATU discovered Oregon's Teacher Standards and Practices Commission (TSPC) suspended Leach's teaching license for four months and put him on two years probation over allegations he physically, emotionally and verbally abused students at James John Elementary School in North Portland from 2012 to 2013.

Despite also being disciplined over those allegations in 2014 he was still able to transfer to other schools and receive substantial raises.

Myers, a PPS teacher and mother of a Lent student, on Tuesday filed a lawsuit against Leach and PPS, saying he assaulted her son at least five times during the 2016-2017 school year.

“It is not easy for a parent to make a complaint about someone in authority," she said Wednesday, "or a colleague to make a complaint about their co-worker or a child to come forward that an adult who is said to be a 'safe' person is hurting them.”

Her lawsuit says in part:

"These assaults caused (her son) personal and emotional injuries. There was no, or insufficient adult supervision at the time of these assaults. PPS's administration, teachers, staff, and employees knew of Sam Leach's history of violence against children and hid it from the public and Carolyn Myers..."

Myers said, "There should not have even been an issue of safety in our schools. It should not take a TSPC report or a white parent and teacher making a complaint this month to take action on an employee who was a danger to children."

Guerrero, who took office in October, told parents he's listening very carefully and actively working to improve the school and the district.

"What you're sharing here today, as a superintendent of schools, as a parent, is very upsetting," he said. "I do beg a little bit of patience while we re-imagine the school system because many of the things that you're describing are symptoms of organizational shifts that we need to make."

About half the students at Lent are Hispanic and/or economically disadvantaged according to the district.

The PTA delivered a letter to Guerrero saying it wants to see a written action plan on how to address the school's inequities by June 8, the last day of the school year.

Harry Esteve, a PPS spokesman, said the district does not normally comment on pending litigation.

Leach did not immediately respond to multiple voicemails, emails and Facebook messages sent by a KATU reporter.

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