EDITORIAL: Putting Students At Risk – Espanola Valley Public School District Board of Education

OPINION: As allegations of sexual abuse in the Pecos School District surface, and Espanola (former Pecos) Superintendent Fred Trujillo is placed on leave with pay, the Espanola Valley Public School District School Board is scrambling to cover up its lack of professionalism in the hiring of not only Trujillo but several of those he brought with him from the Pecos District.

Board President, Gilbert Serrano was told in an email several months ago that at least one member of the public had concerns about Trujillo. Serrano did not answer that email. He told his assistant to contact the writer and request a phone number, so he could discuss the concerns with him. He never called that number.

Now, as the Board rushes to try and hush up the rumors surrounding its hiring practices, Serrano finds himself having to explain his inaction.

He recently told the Santa Fe New Mexican, “the school board did a “very thorough investigation” of Trujillo when considering whether to hire him about a year ago, “and his credentials checked out.”

Obviously, they didn’t.

Let’s outline the real facts:

His credentials were terrible. Over the last four years of Trujillo’s employment at the Pecos District, his school saw a marked decline in educational standards. A simple check on Google lists all school districts educational performance. So, how thorough a job did the Board in Espanola do?

Sexual allegations, and complaints against Trujillo’s lack of concern were already part of an investigation at the time the Espanola Board hired him, and several of those Trujillo recommended for key places within his administration in Espanola. Again, how thorough a job did the Board do?

Here are some of what the Board should have known before the hiring of Trujillo took place, and it was all public record at the time: In 2019, former boys assistant coach Dominick Baca pleaded guilty to raping two Pecos High School students in 2017 and 2018. In 2018, former Pecos Middle School boys coach Apolonio Blea was charged with raping a 14-year-old female Mora student while he was a basketball manager at Mora in 2016. His case was dismissed in 2019 pending further investigation and was never refiled.

The school district paid about $1.5 million in 2018 and 2019 to settle two complaints filed by Baca’s victims, according to the new lawsuit.

State prosecutors charged former Pecos Schools janitor Louie Vigil with 35 felony counts of child rape or molestation in 2017 in connection with allegations he’d violated a male relative dozens of times starting in 2012, court records show.

Vigil pleaded guilty to five of the counts in 2018 and was sentenced to 24 years in prison. So, once again, how thorough a job did the board do?

After the recent federal suit was filed, it took the Board weeks to place Trujillo on paid leave, and to date, others here involved in the suit remain employees of the Espanola Public School District.

Serrano further told the Santa Fe New Mexican, “Serrano said the board was aware of some of the problems in Pecos but concluded Trujillo handled them appropriately.” Yet the federal suit makes it very clear what Serrano considers “appropriate”. It includes the following, again from the Santa Fe New Mexican:

“Most of these incidents occurred during the administration of former Superintendent Fred Trujillo — now superintendent of Española Public Schools — according to the new complaint. Trujillo received reports from a number of sources about his staff’s inappropriate conduct with students, but he never did anything about it, the lawsuit says.

For example, the lawsuit alleges, a Pecos High School teacher reported seeing a female teacher passionately embracing a student. But when the teacher reported his observation, “Trujillo became visibly agitated and told [the teacher] that his word was not good enough and to stay away from gossip.”

The following year, the lawsuit says, a former Pecos High School principal told Trujillo the same female teacher had allegedly been exchanging nude photos with another student and had sex with a student.

“Trujillo became extremely agitated and told [the former principal] she had no proof,” the lawsuit says. Despite subsequent reports from students and parents about the woman’s inappropriate behavior with male students, the woman was never disciplined and still works at the school, according to the complaint.

Trujillo placed the person who reported the incident on administrative leave and did not renew her contract the following year.

Trujillo assigned Sena-Holton to investigate, the lawsuit says, but “no thorough investigation was ever conducted,” and Trujillo promoted the teacher who had been the subject of the allegations.” Yet once again, how thorough a job did the Board do?

In the hiring of Trujillo and others from the Pecos District, the Board put Espanola students at risk, and attempted to turn a blind eye to that fact.

It is now time to start an investigation into the actions of the entire Board. We cannot and will not allow incompetence to place the lives of students within the school district at risk, especially when that risk is known.

News Reporter