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Coquitlam substitute teacher's sexual assault trial resumes this week
The trial of a former Coquitlam substitute teacher accused of inappropriately touching his students continues this week following a long recess.
Aleksandr Plehanov is facing five charges of sexual interference and five charges of sexual assault involving girls who were aged seven and eight at the time of the alleged incidents, which date back to January 2008. He is also facing a charge of criminal harassment in relation to a June 2010 incident, when he was alleged to have been spotted sitting in his car outside one of the girl's homes.
Plehanov's trial in Port Coquitlam provincial court, originally scheduled for two weeks in January, was extended to an additional day in February. That was still not enough time, however, and the trial was extended to two days this week (Thursday and Friday), as well as July 3 and 4. The prosecution is expected to call one more witness on Thursday.
At the beginning of Plehanov's trial, Crown counsel Wendy Van Tongeren Harvey stated that incidents of inappropriate touching started soon after he started substitute teaching in School District 43 in 2007.
Harvey noted there were incidents that took place in at least three elementary schools that prompted warnings from fellow teachers and/or principals about the touching of students but none of those incidents at Eagle Ridge, Hazel Trembath and Rochester elementary schools were reported to the police.
A student who was in Grade 3 at Eagle Ridge elementary in January 2008 said Mr. P asked her to sit in his lap; she also reported he wrapped his arms around her waist, touched her chest and lower pelvic area. She told another teacher, Ricardo Botero, about the incident and he reported it to principal Sue Reynolds. Reynolds later spoke to Plehanov about it but Botero testified that the following day he saw a girl sitting on Plehanov's lap.
In October 2009, Plehanov was substituting at Bramblewood elementary when, according to a Grade 2 girl, she got to be his "special helper" for the day. She also reported sitting on Plehanov's lap and said she thought it was "weird" when he rubbed her tummy underneath her shirt and under the waistline of her pants.
The girl reported the alleged incident to her mother, who informed Bramblewood principal Brenda Walker. Led by School District 43's director of human resources, Jamie Ross, the board investigated Plehanov's behaviour by interviewing several children, some of whom were also interviewed by a child psychologist. The investigation resulted in a recommended finding of misconduct in January 2010. Plehanov met with a psychologist once to work on his "boundary issues" and he met with a co-ordinator up to three times to discuss his classroom management issues.
The results of the investigation were also reported to the B.C. College of Teachers but not to the police, and Plehanov was allowed to keep teaching.
On March 10, 2010, three girls in the same Grade 2/3 split class at Glen elementary were allegedly touched by Plehanov. Two of them testified that Plehanov had rubbed their bottoms and pelvic area while the third said he had touched her shoulder and rubbed her bottom while checking her math work.
All of the girls who have testified described Mr. P as being a "fun" teacher who let the students play games for much of the day. Fellow teachers, including those for whom he substituted, reported chaotic classrooms that were left in disarray upon their return.
The parents of one of the Glen elementary girls contacted Coquitlam RCMP about the allegations and Plehanov was arrested on March 18.
Defence lawyer Lisa Jean Helps has suggested throughout the trial that Plehanov had "disastrous" classroom management skills and misunderstood the boundaries between teachers and students. She has also argued that conversations among the alleged victims and their friends, as well as between their parents, have influenced the matter.
"It is my position that a lot of this is parent-driven," Helps said on the second day of trial.
The trial continues.