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A California school system and a former teacher who is a prominent leftist activist have agreed to pay $950,000 to a student who was assaulted in the classroom by the teacher, in order to settle a lawsuit alleging that the school system kept the teacher in the classroom despite knowing of repeated instances of sexual and ideological misconduct.
Matef Harmachis is a leader in the “ethnic studies” movement who pushed Communism to his classroom of mostly Hispanic teens. In 2017, he was convicted of assaulting a teenage girl after admitting that he nibbled her ear in his classroom. The victim said that he repeatedly touched her buttocks.
Harmachis, who is a black American but contends that he is “African” and adopted the name of an Egyptian god, blamed racism for actions against him and, in a previous email to The Daily Wire, called the victim, a DACA recipient, a “Karen” for reporting the assault to authorities.
“I have never seen a case where a school district ignored so many red flags and allowed a dangerous individual to have unfettered access to vulnerable students,” said Morgan Stewart, an attorney for the victim—whom The Daily Wire is not naming.
Stewart is a partner at Manly, Stewart & Finaldi, which represented victims of former Olympic doctor Larry Nasser and former University of Southern California gynecologist George Tyndall.
Harmachis pleaded guilty to battery in 2017 over the incident and was placed on leave from his job, but was not terminated until 2020, when the state took his teaching certification away. Prior to the 2017 classroom assault, Harmachis was repeatedly cited for misconduct, including discussing sex with teen girls and physically assaulting or threatening students.
But he simultaneously attained influence and prominence in the district through his activism for “ethnic studies,” which then-administrators like Shawn Carey made a centerpiece of Santa Barbara’s curriculum. He was part of a group called Ethnic Studies Now!, which was tightly entwined with school administrators, and even after he was arrested, he attended school board meetings and led meetings of students in which he exhorted them to rise up against oppressors.
The district hired several people involved in the statewide ethnic studies curriculum which was initially vetoed for being anti-Semitic by Gov. Gavin Newsom, but which was later approved with “guardrails.” Harmachis, too, is virulently anti-Semitic. In 2005, he grabbed a Jewish student and threw him out of the classroom for wearing a shirt that said “Israel” on it.
The district spent $1 million trying to fire him following that incident and one in which he told a girl she was “good in bed,” but defended by lawyers for the teachers union, Harmachis was kept on paid leave for five years and returned to his job in 2009. He went on to repeatedly make sexually suggestive and ideologically provocative comments, but was kept in the classroom.
Harry Harrison, an attorney with the firm of Tyson and Mendez, which represented the Santa Barbara Unified School District (SBUSD), told The Daily Wire that “a settlement was reached short of trial so there was no adjudication in terms of liability. Mr. Harmachis also has counsel that was involved.” Harrison said the money was paid from the school district’s insurance carrier.
He said that as far as leaving a known bad actor in the classroom, “the district’s hands were tied” by California’s Commission on Professional Competence (CPC), which had said years ago that he showed “unfitness to teach in some respects” but that the “conduct does not show such unfitness to teach as to warrant dismissal.”
Stewart, the victim’s attorney, told The Daily Wire that “Matef’s attorney was heavily involved in trying to get this done, even mores [sic] than the district’s attorney.” He said that the “pressure point” was the specter of depositions by Harmachis and his wife Diane Fujino, a professor of Asian American Studies and onetime director of the Center for Black Studies Research at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Fujino advocated for Harmachis to remain in the classroom even after his conviction.
He said that Harmachis repeatedly made excuses to postpone the deposition, and that “he had no remorse” and “they probably realized that pretty quickly that if they allow him to say a word, it’s not going to go well.” (Harrison denied that the deposition was a factor in the settlement.) Harmachis declined to comment.
Stewart said that Harmachis used far-left activism as a cover to prey on students in Santa Barbara, a city filled with wealthy white activists and impoverished Hispanics.
“His argument about racism was always a red herring to cover for his behavior and allow him to do whatever he wanted and then if someone pushed back, scream racism. I think that’s the worst type of behavior possible from an individual who is teaching kids, to scream bias to justify your actions. I didn’t see any evidence of racism, on the contrary I saw staff accommodating him at every turn to avoid that accusation,” he said.
Stewart also faulted the teachers union for keeping a bad teacher in the classroom. “We need a mechanism to get abusive teachers out that doesn’t involve some collective bargaining agreement. If you look at his behavior from the outset, he should have never been around kids. They moved him and in this respect the teachers union held too much power,” he said.
He said his client was pleased with the outcome for herself, but that “she’s not confident they took Matef’s abuse seriously enough that they’re going to stop this from happening again.”
The victim told The Daily Wire in a statement that she felt “gutted” to see people in Santa Barbara who had been “politicized by my perpetrator” protect Harmachis, and credited the advocacy group Fair Education Santa Barbara for helping her figure out how to file a lawsuit.
“For all child survivors of school sexual violence: Please report it to the appropriate people, the police department not the administration. The institution protects itself, not you. Report it to the authorities and help save others,” she said.
Read the Daily Wire’s three-part series on indoctrination and abuse in the Santa Barbara schools: