Statement from Leslie Peddicord Gelfand

“I was a student at Presentation High School from 1983 – 1987. I love Presentation and am grateful for the education I received there and the influence it has had in my life. However, not all my experiences there were positive. I join Kathryn Leehane and Jane Doe in sharing a story of abuse at the hands of foreign language teacher, Mr. John Fernandez, and the administration’s failure to act on reports of his abuse.

I had the same foreign language teacher for both my freshman and junior years, and he was overly affectionate and inappropriate with me. He would give me familiar touches. He would kiss me on my hand and my cheeks. He would hug me. He rubbed my shoulders and put his arm around my waist in class.

Additionally, he gave me notes in class and addressed them to “mon chere” (“my dear”). He signed my sophomore yearbook, “A mon chere amie, la fille la plus charmante de l’ecole. Affectueusement, John Fernandez (To my dear friend, the most charming girl of the school. Affectionately, John Fernandez). He gave me little gifts all the time, like chocolates and calligraphy pens. He also gave me an expensive leather satchel bag for my books.

I was extremely confused. I was a child, and I didn’t know what he expected of me. I just knew that his behavior felt wrong. I told my parents everything. They agreed with me and wrote a letter to the principal, Marian Stuckey, describing the inappropriate behavior and demanding that it stop.

The principal never asked me about my experience, nor did any CPS or law enforcement investigator. So I don’t believe she followed mandated reporting laws. I know she showed the letter to Mr. Fernandez because he later came to me and asked, “Why did your parents send that letter?” That was a very tense and awkward position for a teenage girl to be in.

Mr. Fernandez did eventually stop the inappropriate behavior with me, but he went further than that. I felt like I was being punished in the classroom because he ignored me completely. Unfortunately, he did not stop the inappropriate behavior with my classmates, and many of them had to endure his abuse. He went on to teach for almost 20 more years. Other alums have since reported that he assaulted and abused them in the years after I graduated.

Had the administration dealt appropriately with my complaint, those young women would not have been subjected to this abuser.

I am proud to be a Presentation alumna, and I am grateful for the outpouring of support I’ve received from the Presentation community. Together, we can work to make our beloved school stronger and safer for young women going forward—and we can hold accountable those responsible for failing to protect all the students entrusted to their care.”

Watch Leslie’s interview with NBC: