*Continually moved to the top to ensure this story doesn't get lost over the Thanksgiving holiday...
When Julia Orozco found out that SanTana police arrested teacher's assistant Alonso Manuel Gonzalez on November 17 on suspicion of a lewd act with a disabled student at Saddleback High School, she "got a headache out of shock and anger." Orozco is the mother of a girl with Down Syndrome who pulled out her daughter from Saddleback because, among other reasons, she didn't trust Gonzalez around her daughter and other female students. With Gonzalez's arrest, says Orozco, "all our efforts are paying off, little by little."
Orozco spoke to the Weekly yesterday at length about her experiences with Gonzalez and SanTana Unified School District officials, whom Orozco and others say ignored repeated warnings by Saddleback parents and teachers that Gonzalez was acting inappropriately with disabled students. She says the first warning flag came in the fall of 2005, when she and her daughter attended Back to School Night. The two were leaving Saddleback's special-ed classroom when Gonzalez appeared and tried to hug Orozco's daughter. "I told him that was inappropriate--that we encourage the kids to shake hands." Spooked by the encounter, Orozco shared it with another parent, who said they had complained about Gonzalez's actions to administrators to no avail.
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Enough Saddleback parents complained about Gonzalez and other issues that about 15 of them eventually met with then-Saddleback principal Esther Jones and Richard Erhard, then the head of SanTana Unified's special-ed program, at the school. Other parents at the meeting told Erhard and Jones that Gonzalez had a propensity to want to spend time alone with children--scratch that, only with female students--and that the children felt uncomfortable around Gonzalez. Nothing came of this meeting, so another was held at district offices about a month later.
Orozco claims that when the subject of Gonzalez came up, school officials said, "Nothing. Nothing. Not a single word. They didn't even try to make up excuses." Sick of the stonewalling, Orozco transferred her daughter ouf of Saddleback and to Santa Ana High in 2007, where she graduated this year and is currently in the school's adult transitioning program. The single mother feels bad that her and other parents couldn't get Gonzalez out of Saddleback: "I wish I could've had more time bothering them and making phone calls."
Jones and Erhard no longer work at SanTana Unified, but Orozco wants to find them to let them know of Gonzalez's arrest--especially Jones. "I do want to rub it in her face," she says. "I want to tell her, 'What did we tell you a few years ago? Is this what you wanted to happen? Look what you've done.'"
If you have any information about the Gonzalez matter, email GArellano@ocweekly.com. Anonymity guaranteed...