Santa Barbara Unified Teacher Stripped of Credential

After Years of Fighting, District Terminates Teacher

Matef Harmachis | Credit: Paul Wellman (file) | Credit: Paul Wellman (file)

An ex-Santa Barbara Unified teacher has been banned from teaching ever again following multiple allegations of misconduct and abuse toward students over the past 15 years or so.

On November 30, 2020, a lawsuit was filed by Manly, Stewart & Finaldi in the County of Santa Barbara Superior Court against Santa Barbara Unified School District (SBUSD) and former teacher Matef Harmachis for, among other things, sexual battery, sexual assault, and negligent supervision, hiring, and retention.

“The abuse of a student by former SBUSD teacher Matef Harmachis in 2017 was reprehensible,” a statement released by the district reads. “He violated our trust and standards for professional conduct with students. Our sympathies go out to the victim and her family. The district pursued every legal avenue and California Ed code to ban Mr. Harmachis from the classroom.”

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This wasn’t the first time the district fought to get Harmachis out of its classrooms. Sixteen years earlier, in 2005, Harmachis was never criminally charged in a case alleging physical assault and inappropriate sexual comments toward students. The district spent over $1,000,000 in legal fees attempting to terminate him but couldn’t because he wasn’t convicted.

“Our parents, staff, students, and community should understand that the district has worked diligently within the limits of the law and state regulations over the years to terminate Mr. Harmachis even though he was not convicted of a crime,” the district statement said. “We were unsuccessful in that effort and ultimately had to reinstate him as a teacher in 2006.”

But the effort to remove Harmachis eventually caught up with him. The 2020 lawsuit alleges that in 2017, Harmachis committed sexual battery and sexual harassment on a female student during school hours. This time, according to the lawsuit, he was placed under arrest, criminally charged, pleaded no contest, and received a criminal sentence. As a result, he had his teaching credential revoked by the state, and he was terminated by the district in March 2020.

The Independent reached out to Harmachis by phone and email but didn’t receive a response by publication time.

Though the district stands by its commitment to remove Harmachis as soon as it could, attorney Morgan Stewart, representing the alleged sexual assault victim, said the district has more responsibility in the matter.

“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 Stewart.

Stewart said that the district went as far as to say that the district is lacking in responsibility even more because “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.”

It is true that Harmachis has been spotted as a representative for Ethnic Studies Now!, a grassroots community effort that aims to get ethnic studies classes as a high school graduation requirement. Though the district has ties to it, they’ve made it clear that Harmachis is not welcome.

“We were shocked and concerned to see that Mr. Harmachis attended a meeting held at the district as a member of the Ethnic Studies Now! nonprofit organization,” the district statement said. “He was not invited by anyone at the district to attend this meeting. 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.”

The full lawsuit can be found here.

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