The Lodi Middle School vice-principal who placed a physical education teacher under citizen's arrest said Friday she did so after he jostled her and blew a whistle in her ear.
The vice-principal said she made the arrest — apparently unprecedented in Lodi Unified School District — reluctantly, knowing her decision could put her livelihood in jeopardy.
Meanwhile, her principal compared the action to Rosa Parks' historic stand against injustice.
Jon Lapachet, the teacher, was arrested for battery and given a misdemeanor citation for his actions. He could not be reached for comment despite multiple attempts.
Lurdes Rosales, the vice principal involved, the incident was the latest in a series of insults by Lapachet.
"There had been continued and increasing verbal insults, nonverbal gestures and communication, and open contempt for administration, but his crossing the line to go into that physical part was the reason for my decision to make a citizen's arrest," she said.
Principal Patricia Lingerfelt would not comment on the investigation regarding the altercation between Lapachet and Rosales.
"The real story is why Mrs. Rosales exercised her right as an individual to make a citizen's arrest of an individual she believes committed an injustice to her," she said. "She knowingly put everything on the line, her career, professionalism, savings, characters and integrity, to stand up for what she believes, to stand alone against one of the strongest labor unions in our nation, the California Teachers Association."
Both administrators alluded to a history of hostility between Lapachet and school officials, but did not give details, saying the incident was under investigation by the Lodi Unified School District.
Lapachet did not return requests for comment. His wife answered a phone call to their residence. She tearfully refused to comment, saying the incident is still under investigation and her attorney has advised her not to speak. Rosales was still shaken up when she recounted the events Friday.
Rosales was making her classroom rounds on Monday and stopped by the gym before returning to her office. Students were engaged in a game of dodgeball. Rosales stood by the kitchen door near the milk carton refrigerators to watch the game.
At that point, she said, Lapachet approached her from across the gym floor and said something to the effect of, "That's where I stand." He blew his coach's whistle close to Rosales' ear as she moved aside.
"I don't know if it was intentional or not, but it was really loud in my ear," she said.
Lapachet then pushed past Rosales with enough strength to make her stumble and then returned to the far side of the gym, she said.
A few minutes later, Rosales said, Lapachet returned to stand in the same spot and blew his whistle a second time. Rosales leaned in to quietly inform him she did not appreciate his actions and they would discuss them at another time, then left the room.
Lapachet followed her into the courtyard, she said, and yelled that she was the one who was standing in the way, and that her arm was blocking him when the physical contact occurred. He then returned to the gym, Rosales said.
Rosales said she was surprised by Lapachet's actions.
"I could not believe it had gotten to that point where he felt it was okay to do this," she said.
She immediately reported the incident to Lingerfelt and began to consider her options.
Monday night, Rosales talked things over with her husband.
On Tuesday morning, she called the Lodi Police Department to discuss her options with an officer, still reluctant to make the decision.
"In light of the knowledge that Mr. Lapachet would not even be questioned about the incident until after the two-week break, and, most important, the realization that the most that could happen was that he would have a letter placed in his personnel file about the incident, I felt compelled to do the right thing and defend my rights, acting in response to a physical threat," said Rosales.
Shortly after 2 p.m., she placed the call to the police department that brought officers to campus. At that time, Lapachet was arrested on one misdemeanor count of battery.
Lingerfelt compared Rosales' experience to that of Rosa Parks refusing to give up her seat on a bus in the segregated South.
"I believe that if she were here today, Mrs. Parks would be proud of Mrs. Rosales standing up for what she believes to be the right thing. I know I am," said Lingerfelt.
It is highly unusual for an incident between school site personnel to go straight to a legal process, according to Jeff Johnston, president of the local teacher's union, the Lodi Education Association. Generally, the school principal will conduct an investigation and take it to law enforcement from there. Or the principal will decide what repercussions are appropriate, ranging from a verbal warning to a suspension.
Has Johnston seen something like this before?
"Not in my life," he said, adding that there may be implications in regards to teacher discipline in the collective bargaining process. "What the effects will be remain to be seen."
Odie Douglas, assistant superintendent of secondary education, also could not comment on the situation, though he said he is not aware of an incident like this one in Lodi Unified previously.
Lingerfelt said the campus atmosphere has been one of respectful professionalism. Teachers are not addressing the incident in classes. It is unclear how much students know.
"They understand it's a private situation," she said.
Rosales isn't sure what will come of this. It's unclear how the district and her supervisors will react. She is concerned that she might lose her job, or that all of her future decisions and reactions may be questioned.
"We're working on the trust and building rapport and creating strong relationships with the teachers," she said. "This will put a strain on those efforts."
Contact reporter Sara Jane Pohlman at firstname.lastname@example.org.