A California high school teacher who remained an influential and radical leftist education activist after being fired for allegedly groping and biting a student had a nearly two-decade record of shocking classroom behavior but stayed on the payroll thanks to a powerful teachers union.
Matef Harmachis, who was fired by the Santa Barbara Unified School District in 2020 after he was convicted in 2017 of battery for an incident involving a student, had been disciplined some 16 years earlier for grabbing a boy who refused to turn his pro-Israel shirt inside out. The district put him on paid leave, then transferred him to another school.
Within weeks of starting there, he was accused of threatening another student. “I’ll knock your dumb a** out,” Harmachis told the student, according to a court opinion.
The district responded by putting Harmachis on paid leave again and mounting a subsequent investigation that turned up numerous additional allegations, including that Harmachis made inappropriate sexual remarks toward students. Those allegations included that he hugged a girl, told a girl to “rub her body all over his,” and said, “It’s okay if you come naked to class.”
“Just because you’re good in bed doesn’t mean you can eat in class,” Harmachis allegedly told one girl in class.
The district moved to fire Harmachis in 2005, with then-superintendent Brian Sarvis declaring that his presence was “detrimental to students” and that the district “cannot have Matef teaching high school students.” Harmachis was suspended with pay for nearly five years as the California Teachers Association funded a legal battle to save his job. His salary rose to $60,000 during the years he was paid to stay home.
The Commission of Professional Competence found that Harmachis showed “unfitness to teach in some respects,” but that the “conduct does not show such unfitness to teach as to warrant dismissal,” a court wrote. “The trial court applied its independent judgment and reached the same conclusion.” After spending nearly $1 million between legal fees and paying Harmachis to stay out of the classroom, the district reinstated him in 2009.
In 2017, the girl he would later be convicted of battering took his AP World History class at Santa Barbara High School. The Daily Wire is withholding her real name, but will refer to her as Maria.
When Maria reported Harmachis – who is now 65 years old – the principal told her he believed her in part because “four other women” had previously come forward with sexual allegations against Harmachis, she said. It was not clear if district officials acted on those claims, but after Maria’s complaint, it “immediately contacted law enforcement and cooperated with their investigation,” officials said.
On May 8, 2017, Harmachis was charged with battery. In March 2020, nearly three years after the incident with Maria, the State of California revoked his teaching credential. He was finally fired on March 8, 2020.
In a lawsuit filed on November 30, 2020, Maria accused SBUSD of “neglectful supervision” of Harmachis and failure to inform the community and parents of children around him of his conduct. Her lawyers claim the school maintained its close relationship with the fired teacher despite knowing of his outrageous behavior.
“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,” Maria’s legal team said in a press release in early 2021. “The District needs to wake up and ensure that its students are protected from this predator.”
The next day, school officials wrote to parents about Harmachis, acknowledging that what it called the “reprehensible” “abuse of a student” had occurred in 2017 and claiming “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.”
“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! non-profit organization,” the note to parents read. “He was not invited by anyone at the district to attend this meeting.”
Internal documents for the Ethnic Studies Consortium obtained by The Daily Wire cast doubt on the district’s claim of being “shocked” at Harmachis’ continued involvement. A roster created on June 4, 2020, by Santa Barbara schools Assistant Superintendent of secondary education Shawn Carey states that the Consortium includes numerous school officials including herself, and eight members of Ethnic Studies Now! Santa Barbara, including Harmachis. A separate document titled “running notes” suggests that Carey coordinated closely with Harmachis’ group, saying Carey was running a meeting where Harmachis’ participation in a workshop was discussed.
Carey did not return a request for comment.
In an email to The Daily Wire, Harmachis called his accuser a “Karen,” writing: “I am in a civil case with the SBUSD. Therefore, on advice of counsel, I am unable to comment on anything involving–even tangentially–the time I spent working in ESN!SB. As you know, the karen who accused me of molesting her is under the wing of Fair Education, whose members have been attacking ES, ESN!SB and social justice in the SBUSD for several years.”
After the 2017 classroom assault, Harmachis was allegedly supported by fellow radical activists. Jennifer Freed, a self-styled “certified astrologer and psychotherapist” who was paid by the Fund for Santa Barbara to teach students about sexuality, allegedly pressured Maria to drop charges. That overture came after Freed sought to indoctrinate Maria in her sexually explicit extra-curricular teachings, according to Maria’s attorney.
Freed “took a particular interest in [Maria] and has been asking her if she masturbates, told her she should try dating girls, [and] showed up at her house uninvited,” attorney Peter Scott said.
In a July 2019 interview with the popular sex tips podcast Sex With Emily, Freed said that “we do an after-school group for young women called Sexual Wisdom, and one for guys… they bond to each other as educators and learners, because as they get a consciousness about their power of being sexual beings.”
“This is what we do with the teens, once we’ve heard from them all their basic misconceptions about sex, like guys only want girls who have completely shaved pubes and then find us disgusting unless we’re bare. Then we go ok, how’s that working for you?” she added.
Peter Scott, one of Maria’s attorneys, told The Daily Wire in an email that Freed “took a particular interest in [Maria] and has been asking her if she masturbates, told her she should try dating girls, [and] showed up at her house uninvited (Victim has no idea how she even got her address).”
Maria told The Daily Wire in an interview that Freed told her: “I know Matef. He’s a good person.” When Maria protested, Freed allegedly pressed: “You know what the rates are for black men in jail. You don’t want to just put him in jail.”
After she equivocated, Freed came in for the gut punch, saying “she was going to tell the principal that I was going to drop the charges,” Maria said.
In an email to The Daily Wire, Freed denied any involvement and having known Harmachis.
“I didn’t know him at all,” she said. She said she was “truly not involved with this case at all.”
Members of Ethnic Studies Now! also pressured Maria to drop the charges, her lawyer told The Daily Wire.
While Harmachis got away with alleged misdeeds for years, his accusers received a measure of justice when he was fired. And now, Maria hopes to punish the former teacher in civil court with the backing of law firm Manly, Stewart & Finaldi. The firm, known for winning major settlements in sex abuse cases including an $852 million settlement for victims of University of Southern California gynecologist George Tyndall and a $500 million settlement against U.S. Gymnastics over convicted sexual abuser Larry Nassar, believes it understands how abusers of children work.
“Predators go where they can be respected,” Stu Mollrich, an attorney for the firm, told The Daily Wire.
The suit was filed in the Superior Court of California, County of Santa Barbara, and has been winding its way through the system, with several motions filed this month.
After his firing, Harmachis remained a prominent player in the world of “ethnic studies” education policy. On November 11, 2020, Harmachis wrote to California state officials urging them not to include Jews as oppressed peoples in a statewide ethnic studies model curriculum.
“Adding Jewish people to the model curriculum makes no sense. They were never in the original areas of study and as a group did precious little to help bring ES to our university and college campuses. And now they believe they have some say in the matter?” he wrote.
Luke Rosiak is the author of the book Race To the Bottom: Uncovering the Secret Forces Destroying American Public Education. Kenny Xu is an education journalist and the author of the book An Inconvenient Minority.