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PLEHANOV TRIAL: Incident 'serious' but cops not called

Bramblewood elementary school principal Brenda Walker said she considered the accusations of inappropriate touching against a substitute teacher a "serious situation" but did not call the police because once he had left the school, students were no l

Bramblewood elementary school principal Brenda Walker said she considered the accusations of inappropriate touching against a substitute teacher a "serious situation" but did not call the police because once he had left the school, students were no longer in danger.

Walker was being cross-examined Thursday morning in Port Coquitlam provincial court in the second week of Aleksandr Plehanov's trial. When she learned of allegations against him in October 2009, Walker testified, she disclosed the information to the school board but did not ask whether there had been any previous complaints about him.

Walker confirmed she did not contact police or a social worker at any point during her investigation, which lasted from October 2009 until it was concluded in January 2010.

"Your first concern as an administrator is for the safety of the children in your care?" asked defence lawyer Lisa Jean Helps. Walker agreed.

"Had there been an immediate safety concern you would have called police?" Helps asked.

"He was out of the building, so there was no immediate concern," Walker replied, although she said she knew Plehanov was substituting at other schools in the district.

She also confirmed she knew "Mr. P" was putting kids on his lap but concluded it was an issue of Plehanov not understanding what the boundaries were and poor classroom management skills.

Walker had been informed by the mother of a Grade 2 student that the substitute teacher had put her daughter on his lap and rubbed her stomach under her shirt and the waistline of her pants.

Walker and School District 43 human resources director Jamie Ross conducted the internal investigation, the results of which are being kept under wraps due to privacy legislation.

Plehanov was disciplined but continued to teach in the district. Three more allegations, this time from Glen elementary students, emerged in March 2010 when the parents of one alleged victim contacted police.

Plehanov, a Burnaby resident, was later arrested and his teaching licence has since been suspended.

Earlier this week, Eagle Ridge elementary teacher Ricardo Botero testified that in January 2008, he opened the door to the Grade 3 class and saw a girl sitting on Plehanov's lap.

"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. Botero told the court he reported the matter to principal Sue Reynolds.

Reynolds also testified this week, saying she met with Plehanov and told him a teacher had expressed concern about students sitting on his lap.

"He was surprised there was any concern," Reynolds recalled. "I explained that at no time were we to be touching the children. He seemed somewhat embarrassed by the conversation."

Under cross-examination, Reynolds confirmed that after her discussion with Plehanov, she felt the incident was merely a misunderstanding of the boundaries between teachers and children, and she was not concerned for the students' safety.

When Reynolds informed Eagle Ridge teachers in the spring of 2010 that there would be news reports about Plehanov and the allegations against, him Botero recalled the January 2008 incident and reported it to police.

Also testifying this week were the alleged victims from Bramblewood and Eagle Ridge elementary schools.

Both described Plehanov as a "fun" teacher who hadn't made them do much work. Both girls said they sat on Mr. P's lap behind the teacher's desk.

The Eagle Ridge student, a Grade 3 girl, testified Plehanov asked her to sit in his lap by patting the top of his legs. He then "gently touched her," indicating he'd wrapped his arms around her waist and touched her chest and lower pelvic area.

She didn't tell anyone at the time, she said in the videotaped statement to police that was played in court, because she "didn't know what it meant or that it was bad."

The girl told her mother about the incident two years later, when the mother approached her after learning from the school's principal that there was an issue with the substitute teacher. The mother read a story in the newspaper about Plehanov and asked her daughter if he had touched her, describing him as a "bad teacher, a bad man."

The girl responded by saying, "That's why he touched me like that."

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.

The trial continues.

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