A now-former Santa Barbara Unified School District teacher, who has been subject to current and previous litigation, has been permanently banned from ever teaching again.
Matef Harmachis was banned from the district and had his teaching credential revoked by the state of California in March 2020. At that time, he was taken off the payroll and his ties with the school district were severed on March 8, 2020, according to a statement from the district.
The district issued a statement to the News-Press on Friday outlining Mr. Harmachis’ removal. The move came after calls from attorneys representing a student who was allegedly sexually assaulted by Mr. Harmachis in 2017.
On Nov. 30, 2020, a civil lawsuit was filed by Manly, Stewart & Finaldi — one of the nation’s leading firms representing victims of sexual abuse cases against school districts, churches, physicians and other governing bodies — in Santa Barbara County Superior Court for, among other things, sexual battery, sexual assault and negligent supervision and hiring retention against the district and Mr. Harmachis.
The lawsuit alleges that, in 2017, Mr. Harmachis committed sexual battery and sexual harassment on a female student during school hours. The lawsuit further alleges that Mr. Harmachis was placed under arrest and criminally charged for these actions, to which he pled no contest and received a criminal sentence. As alleged in the lawsuit, Mr. Harmachis subsequently had his teaching credential stripped by the State of California and was terminated by the district.
According to the lawsuit, Mr. Harmachis has a well-documented history of inappropriate conduct as a teacher, with the district attempting to terminate Mr. Harmachis as a teacher in 2005 for physical assault of and inappropriate sexual comments toward students. Attorneys say the district spent more than $1,000,000 in legal fees in attempting to terminate Mr. Harmachis, but ultimately reinstated him as a teacher.
The reinstatement came following former district Superintendent Brian Sarvis publicly stating that Mr. Harmachis was a “detriment to students” and noting that the district “cannot have Matef teaching high school students.” Nevertheless, the district placed Mr. Harmachis back in a loosely supervised teaching position where he had direct access to female students, the attorneys said.
“We are truly shocked by, not only of course, the behavior of Mr. Harmachis, but also the complete lack of responsibility taken by the District to look after and care for its student body by placing Mr. Harmachis in a position to sexually batter and harass students, after it knew and admitted that he was a danger,” said Morgan Stewart, attorney for the plaintiff.
“Even now, the District continues to regularly invite Mr. Harmachis back onto campus to work with students by virtue of his involvement with the Ethnic Studies Now! group. The District even continues to have pictures of Mr. Harmachis up on their website as part of their Ethnic Studies curriculum,” Mr. Stewart said. “We absolutely encourage any other students, past or present, that were subjected to inappropriate treatment at the hands of Mr. Harmachis to contact Santa Barbara law enforcement. The District needs to wake up and ensure that its students are protected from this predator.”
In the statement to the News-Press, the district indicated it was “shocked and concerned” to see that he attended a meeting held at the district as a member of Ethhnic Studies Now!, a nonprofit organization.
“He was not invited by anyone at the district to attend this meeting,” the statement read. “His membership in this nonprofit was not within the control of SBUSD. Mr. Harmachis is not welcome at any district function or on any district campus. We have conveyed that position to Ethnic Studies Now! organizers in the strongest terms.”
Officials described the allegations against Mr. Harmachis in 2017 as “reprehensible.”
“He violated our trust and standards for professional conduct with students. Our sympathies go out to the victim and her family,” the statement read. “The district pursued every legal avenue and California Ed code to ban Mr. Harmachis from the classroom.”
District officials said that, stemming from the 2005 incident, Mr. Harmachis was never criminally charged. The district “worked diligently within the limits of the law and state regulations” over the years to terminate him although he was not convicted of a crime.
“We were unsuccessful in that effort and ultimately had to reinstate him as a teacher in 2006,” officials said.
When the district first learned of the 2017 incident, officials immediately contacted law enforcement and cooperated with their investigation, which led to his arrest and criminal charges for battery.
“At the start of this process, he was immediately removed from the classroom and placed on leave. While on leave, he was not allowed on any school campus, and school administrators were told to report to district officials if he appeared,” officials said.
The civil lawsuit seeks financial damages on behalf of the victim and her family.