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PLEHANOV TRIAL: Teacher felt 'guilty' for not doing more
An Eagle Ridge elementary school teacher who testified he saw a Grade 3 student sitting on a substitute teacher's lap said he feels guilty he didn't do more at the time.
Ricardo Botero has taught at Eagle Ridge for 11 years, the last seven of which he has shared a Grade 3 class with another teacher, Nicole Patrick. Botero teaches the class Monday through Wednesday and goes to the room next door to teach computer classes for the rest of the week, when Patrick takes over the Grade 3 class.
She was away on Thursday, Oct. 17, 2008; the teacher-on-call for her was Aleksandr Plehanov.
Botero testified at Plehanov's trial Wednesday that he bumped into his class in the hallway, likely coming back from the washroom. He asked two girls how the class was going; one of them replied and the other giggled in agreement, he said.
"I was disturbed by what the girl told me and I immediately went to the principal and relayed what she had said," Botero stated.
He later learned from Eagle Ridge principal Sue Reynolds that she met with Plehanov after school that day.
Botero said he popped into the classroom on Friday, Oct. 18, 2008 to retrieve something and saw the girl he had spoken to the previous day sitting on Plehanov's lap behind the teacher's desk.
"Immediately when I came in she jumped off his lap and started doing something at the desk," Botero testified. "She was standing very close to him, between his legs. That disturbed me as well and I felt it was very inappropriate."
He said he walked into the room and called the girl away to remove her from the situation.
In her cross-examination defence lawyer Lisa Jean Helps suggested her client's classroom management skills were a "disaster" because he was relatively inexperienced, unlike Botero.
He said he couldn't really comment on Plehanov's classroom management capabilities, only that he noticed materials in the room were disorganized; that was to be expected, however, given the activities the children were doing at the end of the week.
Botero said in May 2010 Reynolds informed Eagle Ridge elementary teachers that stories about Plehanov would be published in the media in connection with reports of inappropriate touching at another school in March 2010.
At that point Botero went to Coquitlam RCMP to report the 2008 incident at his school.
Helps asked Botero why, if part of a teacher's normal duties were to assist other teachers, he hadn't spoken to Plehanov about his concerns back in January 2008.
"I felt it was beyond the scope of what is in the normal teaching realm and the principal should deal with it," Botero said, adding at the time he felt Reynolds had taken the appropriate steps.
He agreed that, in retrospect, he felt guilty he didn't do more at the time given the accusations that surfaced after 2008.
"Reflecting back... with the information I had at the time I thought I was doing the right thing," Botero said.
Plehanov is charged with five counts of sexual interference and five counts of sexual assault involving girls, aged seven and eight, from three different schools. The alleged incidents date back to 2008.
After an internal school board investigation in connection with an October 2009 incident at Bramblewood elementary Plehanov was disciplined but was allowed to continue teaching. Five months later three girls from a Grade 2/3 split class at Glen elementary reported Plehanov had allegedly touched them inappropriately.
He was arrested a short time later and his teaching licence was suspended in May 2010.
Plehanov also faces a charge of criminal harassment.
Expected to testify Wednesday afternoon at Port Coquitlam provincial court are a former Eagle Ridge elementary student, her mother and principal Sue Reynolds.