Former McMartin Pre-School defendant Peggy Ann Buckey pulled her silver Honda CRX into a parking slot at the Trident Community Center in Anaheim, quietly unloaded books and other materials, and entered a classroom before 7:30 a.m. Wednesday to resume what she has been prevented from doing for five years: teaching a class of handicapped children.
The 32-year-old Buckey, who holds a master's degree in special education, was ready to meet her first two students in a class that will be limited to 10 high school students with learning and communication disorders.
By slipping in early she avoided a confrontation with about a dozen demonstrators from an Orange County coalition of victims' rights and child advocacy groups, who waved placards reading "Crime Victims Say No to Buckey" and other slogans as students and other teachers began arriving at the alternative school.
Say They Were Outraged
The demonstrators said they were outraged that she was being allowed to teach again, even though all molestation and conspiracy charges against her and four other McMartin teachers were dropped in 1986. Her mother and brother presently are being tried in Los Angeles County Superior Court on 65 counts of molestation and conspiracy.
Peggy Ann Buckey sporadically taught as a substitute at her family's Manhattan Beach nursery school from 1977 to 1980.
"We're not saying she's guilty. We're not saying she's innocent. We're saying she's \o7 suspect,\f7 " said Howard Garber, director of the Citizens Anti-Crime Task Force (ACT). He was joined by representatives of the Orange County Citizens Against Child Abuse, Young Citizens for Law and Order, National Exchange Club for the Prevention of Child Abuse, Fullerton Citizens for Decency and National Coalition Against Pornography.
Shelley Ziliak brought her 16-year-old handicapped daughter, Kimberly, to dramatize the difficulties such children have in making themselves understood.
"It's just perfect, isn't it, that she would be assigned to teach children who cannot communicate what they experience?" she said.
Leonard Lahtinen, president of the Anaheim Secondary Teachers Assn., said he had come "to protest the protesters. It's our position that she's entitled to reinstatement fully and completely. They (the protesters) are unwilling to accept what the courts have decided. They're a gang of vigilantes."
Buckey lost her teaching credential after she was indicted in the McMartin case in 1984, and school officials denied her request for reinstatement, questioning both her "moral fitness" to teach and whether, in fact, she still had a credential, which they contended had expired.
Buckey fought back, and after a three-month hearing, Administrative Law Judge Ronald M. Gruen recommended that her application to teach the deaf and learning-disabled be approved. In January, the state Commission on Teacher Credentialing, meeting in Sacramento, voted 7 to 6, with one abstention, to endorse his proposed ruling.
"I'm overjoyed," Buckey said at that time. "I think it's the greatest news I've had in five years."
Neither she nor her attorney were available for comment Wednesday.
Anaheim Union High School District Supt. Cynthia Grennan said Buckey was assigned to the newly created class because her former post at Kennedy School in La Palma had been filled. Grennan said parents of children being considered for transfer to Buckey's class will not be told about her background, but that if any parent objects, his or her objection will be respected.
Still at issue is whether Buckey will receive the $100,000 in back pay she claims is due her, a matter still being negotiated between her attorney and district officials.
The protesters, as well as parents of McMartin children who testified at Buckey's teaching credentialing hearing, said they plan to ask the commission to reconsider its decision when it meets Friday in Anaheim.