State was notified of Child Abuse
allegations more than a year before
Waukegan school employee’s arrest
CHICAGO, IL – More than a year before a Waukegan school employee was charged with sexually abusing a girl for years, state education authorities were notified that he was fired by Chicago Public Schools on allegations of “child abuse,” records obtained by the Lake County News-Sun show.
Gabriel Valadez, 26, of Darien, was hired by Waukegan District 60 in August 2017, six months after he was suspended by Chicago Public Schools, where he was a special education classroom assistant. He was fired from CPS in December 2017 after his suspension the previous February.
A letter obtained from Chicago Public Schools shows the Illinois State Board of Education was notified of his termination the following month, in January 2018. A spokeswoman for the state agency said she could not comment on specific cases, but ISBE records show Valadez’s paraprofessional educators license remains valid.
Defense attorney John Deleon, who is representing Valadez, declined to comment due to the pending charges. He said his client also would not comment.
An internal Chicago Public Schools memo summarizing Valadez’s 2017 termination hearing concluded that he “exhibited all the classic signs of child grooming behavior,” which occurs when an adult attempts to gain the trust of the child, looks for opportunities to be alone with the child and gives gifts or money to the child.
Valadez, who pleaded not guilty earlier this month, was arrested Feb. 19 at Waukegan District 60’s administrative offices by Chicago police officers and charged with grooming and sexually abusing a girl for several years, when she was between the ages of 9 and 13, according to court records.
He is accused of taking the girl’s hand and having her touch him, of groping her bottom and of asking her to send sexually explicit and nude photographs of herself, according to preliminary complaints filed in Cook County court.
Waukegan District 60 has “not received any official communication” from either Chicago Public Schools or the Illinois State Board of Education regarding Valadez and his time at CPS, district spokesman Nick Alajakis said.
A bill approved by the Illinois House and awaiting action in the Illinois Senate would give the State Board of Education the ability to suspend the licenses of educators under investigation, a change that might have helped Waukegan District 60 learn about Valadez’s history sooner.
Valadez joined Chicago Public Schools in May 2014 in office support for the district’s Network 7, according to personnel records obtained from CPS.
Seven months later, in December 2014, he took a job as a special education classroom assistant at Infinity Math, Science and Tech High School in Chicago’s South Lawndale neighborhood, according to personnel records. A year later, he moved to Jungman Elementary School.
It was at Jungman that questions arose about Valadez’s contact with a student.
Valadez was suspended Feb. 16, 2017, after giving a student a chocolate Valentine’s Day present despite being warned verbally and in writing to have no contact with that student, according to a letter from Chicago Public Schools to Valadez.
Valadez was never the student’s teacher, he told an investigator. He said during the 2016-17 school year, one of his assignments included taking another student from one classroom to the science lab, where the girl was also assigned during that period.
Valadez was told not to contact the student following a March 2016 incident where he was speaking to the student outside someone’s house after school until the father came home, according to a November 2017 internal memo.
According to the report, Valadez had been reminded of the no-contact order in September 2016 after staff members saw him playing basketball with the student after school hours. Valadez denied that he had played basketball with the student.
Valadez told Jungman’s principal that he thought it was OK to give the student the chocolates because two other adults were present at the time, according to a redacted copy of the investigative report. The principal said Valadez told her he had been asked by another special education classroom aide to bring the chocolates for the student.
The other employee told the investigator that she never told Valadez to get chocolates for the students, according to the report.
Valadez later told an investigator that he had brought chocolates and red roses to give to staff, and decided to give the chocolates to the student after he realized he had some left over, according to the report. He said the student had followed him into the classroom and he gave the student the chocolates and told her, “Get outta here.”
The student told the investigator that she did not know Valadez was not supposed to talk to her, according to the report. The student said she would often speak to Valadez before and after school, at least once a week, which Valadez denied when interviewed by the investigator.
A union representative who testified on Valadez’s behalf at his termination hearing denied Valadez was engaged in grooming behavior, and said Valadez did not communicate with the student through social media or text messaging.
According to an internal memo, Valadez did not testify at the hearing.
Valadez had previously been investigated in 2015 for alleging staring at student-athletes during practice and making them uncomfortable, for making an inappropriate comment to a former student, and for staring at a student who was in detention, according to the investigative report.
The investigator, who spoke to the students involved as well as staff, found none of the allegations were supported by evidence, according to the report.
Termination and notification
Following the Feb. 16, 2017, suspension by Chicago Public Schools, Valadez was sometimes paid and sometimes unpaid throughout the course of an investigation and subsequent proceedings, CPS records show.
He was fired in December 2017 and placed on the district’s do-not-hire list, according to a letter from the district to Valadez.
A month later, Chicago Public Schools sent a letter to the Illinois State Board of Education, notifying the agency it had “reasonable cause” to believe he had been fired after “committing an intentional act of child abuse.”
By this time, Valadez had already been hired by Waukegan District 60 as an administrative assistant at its district offices, records show. Valadez resigned in February, the week after his arrest.
His application with Waukegan, submitted in July 2017, said he was still employed by Chicago Public Schools and had never been fired, which was all true at that point. On a form completed in August, he denied that he had ever been investigated for misconduct, which was not true.
Valadez wasn’t the district’s first pick, according to text messages sent by Superintendent Theresa Plascencia to a school board member following Valadez’s arrest. Three other applicants, including an internal candidate, received offers but declined the job.
Plascencia did know Valadez from her time at CPS, but she was not involved in his hiring at Waukegan, Alajakis said.
Plascencia was the chief of Network 7 from November 2013 to August 2015 when she took a new role with CPS as executive director for high school design, programs and support. She left CPS in April 2016 prior to the start of the internal investigation into Valadez’s conduct at Jungman.
Notifications like Chicago Public Schools’ letter to ISBE, which are required under state law, can trigger an investigation by the Illinois State Board of Education and ultimately the suspension or revocation of an educator’s license, ISBE spokeswoman Jackie Matthews said.
Matthews, who declined to comment on any particular case, said there is no way to predict how long any single case will take to resolve because each comes with its own set of circumstances.
Valadez still had an active paraprofessional educator license as of Friday, Illinois State Board of Education records show.
ISBE will hold off on an investigation, for example, if the police or Department of Child and Family Services are conducting their own investigations, Matthews said. The amount of time it takes for those investigations and criminal proceedings to conclude “varies significantly.”
That means an educator’s license can remain valid and, if they’ve since moved on to another district, no one there may know they’re under investigation.
ISBE does not have the ability to suspend educators’ licenses while they are being investigated for serious alleged crimes involving physical and sexual abuse, though it would want that authority, ISBE’s general counsel, Stephanie Jones, testified before the General Assembly last year.
A bill that would give ISBE that power passed the Illinois Senate in a 57-0 vote April 11. It is now being considered by the House.
May 2014: Gabriel Valadez joins Chicago Public Schools in Network 7 office support.
December 2014: Valadez takes a special education classroom assistant position at Infinity Math, Science and Tech High School.
December 2015: Valadez moves to Jungman Elementary School.
March 2016: Valadez told to have no contact with a student at Jungman.
February 2017: Valadez was suspended after giving Valentine’s Day chocolates to the student with whom he had been ordered to have no contact.
August 2017: Valadez is hired at Waukegan District 60 as an administrative assistant at its district offices.
December 2017: Valadez is fired from Chicago Public Schools.
January 2018: Chicago Public Schools notifies the Illinois State Board of Education that it fired Valadez over allegations of child abuse.
February 2019: Valadez is arrested at Waukegan District 60’s administrative office on charges of child sexual abuse and grooming. He voluntarily resigns the following week.