The Tempe Union High School District governing board voted 5-0 Wednesday to not renew the contract of a Marcos de Niza High School teacher accused of having a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old student.
Grace Gamez’s contract will end May 23. Since it was a one-year probationary contract, she cannot appeal, said district spokeswoman Nicole Greason. She will remain on home assignment for the rest of this school year.
Tempe prosecutors are investigating whether the high school broke the law by not telling authorities when allegations of the relationship between Gamez and the student surfaced in December.
Gamez, 24, is accused of four counts of sexual misconduct with a minor and one count of tampering with evidence. The charges stem from allegations Gamez, an English teacher and assistant basketball coach, had an ongoing sexual relationship at her Chandler apartment with a female student, possibly beginning in December, according to investigative reports.
Andrew Ching, a Tempe assistant city attorney, said his office has received Chandler’s investigation and is considering pursuing misdemeanor charges against the school.
"There was a request from Chandler (police) to review the principal and teacher to determine whether they failed to report to law enforcement when they should have reason to believe (there was) a sexual relationship," Ching said.
Chandler police also claimed the district impeded their investigation by refusing to hand over potential evidence, such as a laptop computer Gamez might have used to e-mail the student.
The district disputes Chandler’s claims, and officials said in a statement released Wednesday that they believe they cooperated fully with police.
"We stand by our actions in the Grace Gamez investigation," the statement read.
District Superintendent James Buchanan declined to comment on the statement.
Arizona law requires teachers and administrators to inform police and the Arizona Department of Education of child sex and abuse allegations.
The state board plans to wait until the police complete their investigation before determining whether the school or district should be disciplined for not reporting the December allegations, said investigator Vince Yanez.
Many East Valley school districts have tailored their reporting policies to comply with state law — and because of recent high-profile cases involving inappropriate relationships between teachers and students.
Scottsdale Unified School District attorneys are strengthening and clarifying rules for reporting to the district and the Arizona Department of Education.
The move came in response to the resignation of elementary school principal Chris Meisinger after he did not report allegations of inappropriate behavior of a teacher charged in January with child molestation.
Gilbert Unified School District officials promptly reported a teacher to the state board and police after students reported a student at Highland Junior High School received an inappropriate email from a teacher.
Although police did not recommend criminal charges, the district fired the teacher in February.
"On any kind of major incident, the principal or site administrator contacts the police department directly," said district spokeswoman Dianne Bowers. "Our superintendent has a very good relationship with (police), so when problems occur, on either side, I feel there’s a good level of trust."